CIA 'had the opportunity, but not the authority, to kill leader of Taliban'

War against terrorism: Mullah Omar
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The American military missed a prime opportunity to kill the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, seven days ago because of bureaucracy in the chain of command, The New Yorker magazine said.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, was said to be enraged by the missed opportunity and was "breaking doors", the magazine stated.

It reported that Mullah Omar, who is both the military and spiritual leader of the Taliban, and his entourage were located while fleeing the city of Kandahar last Sunday.

An unmanned Predator surveillance plane armed with two missiles located the group but, because the operation was being controlled by the CIA, there was no one with the authority to "push the button". By the time the order was eventually given to send in a wave of attack aircraft, Mullah Omar had left the scene.

The CIA is forbidden under orders issued by the President from committing any assassinations, although plans to change this law have been aired since the 11 September terror attacks in America.

The CIA and the Pentagon refused to comment on the magazine's reports yesterday but there is little doubt the claims will cause consternation among senior officials. After Osama bin Laden, the secretive Mullah Omar was, in effect, America's most wanted man.

"If it was a f***-up I could live with it," one senior official told the magazine. "But it's not a f***-up, it's an outrage. This isn't like you're six years old and your mother calls you in for lunch and you say, 'Time out'. If anyone thinks otherwise, go look at the World Trade Centre or the Pentagon."

The report says that the sighting of Mullah Omar was eventually passed to the US Central Command, at MacDill airforce base in Tampa, Florida. By this point,perhaps because he was aware of the presence of the slow-flying Predator, Mullah Omar and his convoy had taken shelter in a building.

A request was then made for a full-scale assault on the building, but the Central Command's commander, General Tommy Franks, said there was a second legal obstacle to carrying out the strikes.

Instead, an alternative order was given for the Predator to launch a missile at the vehicles parked in front of the building and then to film "who came out".

The magazine reports that soon afterwards the building was hit by F-18 Navy Hornets, which destroyed it. By then, Mullah Omar had disappeared.