Taliban leader Omar hiding in Afghanistan, sources say
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is still believed hiding from U.S.-led forces inside Afghanistan, but most of the al-Qaida leaders he once harbored have left, Bush administration officials said Tuesday.
Most of the important captures of al-Qaida figures announced in recent weeks have been on the Pakistan side of the border or elsewhere in the world.
Omar and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the top two on America's most wanted terrorist list, remain elusive.
American troops hoped early this month that they were on the trail of one-eyed Taliban spiritual leader Omar, who like most others from the routed fundamentalists regime have remained in their home country, defense officials said Tuesday.
But the search in Omar's home province of Uruzgan went horribly wrong.
Raid gone wrong
U.S. troops believed they were drawing anti-aircraft fire, responded with air strikes by an AC-130 gunship and accidentally killed an estimated 40 Afghan civilians. Omar is believed to remain in the mountainous region in or near the province.
As for al-Qaida, leader bin Laden's whereabouts remain a mystery.
His lieutenants -- mostly Arabs -- have all but abandoned the home they had under Taliban, an administration official said on condition of anonymity. One group of al-Qaida leaders is thought to have fled to Pakistan, while other members scattered to other countries.
In recent months, U.S. officials acknowledged the capture of two high-ranking al-Qaida figures: operations chief Abu Zubaydah in March in Pakistan, and operational planner Abu Zubair al-Haili in June in Morocco.
Though the Pentagon has been secretive about identifying those captured, here is a scorecard on some others captured, killed or still sought in the first campaign of the counterterror war:
Among al-Qaida, America and its allies say they've captured or killed 12 top leaders since Sept. 11.
They have identified about 20 more al-Qaida they are seeking, including bin Laden top deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, financial chief Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif and operational planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, believed involved in the Sept. 11 attacks and the April 11 bombing of a Tunisian synagogue.
Suspected al-Qaida fugitives captured in Pakistan in the past two weeks may include a senior official, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.
In the Taliban, the United States and its allies have several leaders in custody, including Mullah Fazel Mazloom, army chief of staff; Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil, minister of foreign affairs, and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, ambassador to Pakistan.
Taliban intelligence chief, Qari Ahmadullah, was killed by U.S. bombing Dec. 27.
Though most Taliban still wanted by the United States are thought to remain in Afghanistan, a few may have gone to Pakistan. Those wanted include top Omar aide Tayeb Agha, former Minister of Frontier Affairs Jalaluddin Haqqani, and former guerrilla commanders Mullah Baradar Akhund, Akhter Mohammed Osmani and Mullah Dadullah.
In search of Omar
A U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship was supporting a search for Omar -- or others who know his whereabouts -- when it struck civilians celebrating a wedding July 1, defense officials said Tuesday.
"They thought he was in the area," said U.S. Army spokesman Gary Tallman at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. "Multiple intelligence sources led us to that conclusion."
The Pentagon previously refused to say why troops were in the area that night.