Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Arrest'confusion over Mullah Omar as Troops Move In

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

'Arrest'confusion over Mullah Omar as Troops Move In

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD ALLEN

AFGHAN fighters and US forces have surrounded a village where Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is believed to have taken refuge despite unconfirmed reports that he has already been captured.

US forces are today making house-to-house searches for Mullah Omar around Baghran in southern Helmand province, a remote, mountainous region 100 miles north-west of Kandahar, Omar's powerbase until he abandoned it to local chieftains on 7 December.

The moves comes despite Afghan minister for reconstruction, Amin Farhang, telling a German television programme last night: "I have heard that he was arrested but more I do not know."

However, a spokesman for Kandahar intelligence chief Haji Gullalai said: "I have no news about Mullah Omar's capture... we would know within half an hour if he is captured."

Afghan forces, meanwhile, took up positions at the frontline near Baghran, as local leaders considered demands to hand over both Mullah Omar and their weapons.

Mr Gullalai's spokesman said: "Our people are at the forefront and the US forces are in the rear. They don't want to be at the front because of security and also because they don't want to suffer casualties."

Earlier this week the intelligence chief said his envoys to local leaders in Baghran had returned and he was awaiting an answer from the chieftains on demands for Mullah Omar's handover.

Mullah Omar, 42, who lost one eye fighting the Soviets during their 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, was thought to have fled to Baghran with as many as 1,500 fighters. He is believed to command widespread loyalty in the southern ethnic Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. …

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