Afghan troops prepare for attack on Mullah Omar's 'mountain hideout'

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The Independent Online

Afghan troops are preparing to attack a mountain hideout where the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is said to have fled with 500 men.

Ten days after the fall of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Mullah Omar has been traced to a mountain redoubt northwest of the city, according to Kandahar's intelligence chief, Haji Gullalai, who said the ethnic Pashtun forces hunting him would hang him. "He sold out the country, he sold out our people, he sold out Islam," he said. "He has no place to hide."

Mr Gullalai, who was appointed intelligence chief by a shura, or council of tribal elders, last week, said Mullah Omar had fled to the mountains and caves around Baghran in Helmand province, about 100 miles northwest of Kandahar.

"At the moment we are concentrating on stabilising Kandahar, but after two or three days we will arrange troops to attack the districts in the northwest," Mr Gullalai said. "We will try to surround him."

He said one of Mullah Omar's aides, Hafiz Majid, was negotiating a surrender from Sperwan, near Kandahar, where he had been seeking guarantees he would not be handed to the US or killed.

It is a frustrating and glaring detail of the "end-game" for the Americans that not only Osama bin Laden but also his protector, Mullah Omar, and other figures remain at large.

While Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, has thanked the superpower for its help in prising the country from Taliban control, the United States is vowing the war is not yet over. Almost all of the Taliban's top leaders have escaped the campaign. In many cases, deals engineered by warlords ensured the safety of the defeated commanders in exchange for a surrender. Mullah Omar's army chief of staff, intelligence chief, and defence and interior ministers are among those still free.

Afghanistan's new powerbrokers, who value tribal allegiance above international justice, have allowed many of the militants to slip back into their communities. The groups who fought the Taliban in the south were largely from Pashtun tribes as were most of the Taliban fighters.

At the fall of Kunduz in the north, The Independent witnessed surrendering Afghan Taliban being welcomed by their victors, while foreign Taliban fighters were beaten and by some accounts executed.

Rashid Dostum, the commander who took Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz, apparently allowed Fazel Ahmad Mazloom, the Taliban army chief of staff; Beradar, a deputy defence minister, and Dadullah and Abdul Razaq Nafez, both commanders, to leave for Kandahar after the fall of the northern cities. They are now missing.

Before the fall of Kabul last month, alliance officials drew up a list of the 12 most wanted Taliban officials. At least five are believed to have escaped to Pakistan, Afghan intelligence officials told The Washington Post:Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban defence minister; Abdur Rahman Zahed, the deputy foreign minister; Abdul Razaq, the interior minister; Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a Kandahar military commander; and Anwar Dangar, another commander.