Taliban leader reportedly agrees to leave Kandahar

Friday, November 16, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has agreed to leave his headquarters at Kandahar and turn over the southern Afghan city to two local Pashtun leaders, the Afghan Islamic Press said Friday.

The Pakistan-based agency said Omar agreed to leave Kandahar within 24 hours and head for the mountains following discussions with "close friends and army commanders."

But at the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said he didn't put much stock in the report, which could not be independently confirmed.

"I don't believe it," Stufflebeem told a news conference. "I think that our forces who are there are still operating under the assumption that it is a hostile environment. I think the opposition groups are operating in the same way."

Under the deal, control of the city will pass to Mullah Naqibullah and Haji Basher, the agency said. The two are locally prominent former commanders of Afghan resistance forces in the war against Soviet invaders and are not members of the Taliban.

Basher is close to Yunus Khalis, a Pashtun leader who took over the northeastern city of Jalalabad this week. Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, and served as the backbone of the Taliban's harsh five-year regime.

Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader who has been trying to organize a Pashtun uprising in the south, told CNN that the Taliban leaders had no place to go if they left Kandahar.

"They will find it very hard to find an escape route," said Karzai, adding that Taliban leaders would be offered amnesty if they surrendered and gave up their weapons.

"We have offered them amnesty, of course," he said. "If they do not fight and lay down their arms, they will be saved," he said.

He said he had a report from one of his people that there was "serious turmoil" in Kandahar. He said some Taliban troops tried to leave the city to the north and were met by villagers who tried to stop them.

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