x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Taliban 'completely deny' reports that Mullah Omar is dead

As anonymous Afghan intelligence sources say Omar was shot dead in Pakistan while being moved to North Waziristan with the help of the former Pakistani intelligence chief General Hamid Gul, Taliban insist: 'It¿s only propaganda - he is inside Afghanistan directing military operations.'

Lutfullah Mashal, spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, at a news conference in Kabul yesterday where he said the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has 'disappeared' from his hideout in Pakistan, but could not confirm that he had been killed despite an earlier claim. Shah Marai / AFP Photo
Lutfullah Mashal, spokesman for Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, at a news conference in Kabul yesterday where he said the Taliban leader Mullah Omar has 'disappeared' from his hideout in Pakistan, but could not confirm that he had been killed despite an earlier claim. Shah Marai / AFP Photo

KABUL // The Taliban has denied a report in the Afghan press that the insurgent group's leader had been killed in neighbouring Pakistan, saying yesterday that Mullah Mohammad Omar is alive and in Afghanistan.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: "This is absolutely wrong. It's only propaganda and we completely deny these rumours. He is inside Afghanistan and he is busy directing military operations with his commanders."

There has been much speculation that the US might ramp up efforts to kill or capture the Taliban leader after the strike against Osama bin Laden. The US president, Barack Obama, has said he would order another covert military raid if it was necessary to stop terrorist attacks.

Most of those with knowledge of the Taliban organisation say Omar is hiding in southern Pakistan, around Quetta or Karachi.

The Afghan news channel Tolo quoted an anonymous Afghan intelligence official as saying Omar had been shot dead in Pakistan while being moved from Quetta to North Waziristan with the help of the former Pakistani intelligence chief General Hamid Gul. North Waziristan is a tribal area home to militants whose primary focus is attacking US and Nato troops across the border in Afghanistan.

A Pakistani intelligence official said that there was no information to suggest the report of Omar's death was true. He spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

General Gul told the Associated Press that the story was false. "This is propaganda, sheer deception, disinformation," he said. "I have never met him. I've never seen him. No contact whatsoever."

Afghanistan's leaders accuse Pakistan's intelligence services of aiding Taliban and other insurgents fighting international and Afghan troops in the country, even as Islamabad battles the allied Pakistani Taliban at home. Similar suspicions of collusion were raised after the raid on bin Laden, whose hiding place in a military town near the Pakistani capital led some to believe at least some Pakistani authorities must have known where he was. Pakistan denies that.

A spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service said they had confirmed reports that Omar had been moved within Pakistan and that General Gul was involved.

"The transfer happened two days ago. He was taken from Quetta to North Waziristan by General Hamid Gul," said Latifullah Mashal, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence agency. "Since that transfer, our sources tell us that there has been no contact between Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Taliban." Mr Mashal did not say if multiple days of silence was unusual and said he could not confirm the report of Omar's death.

US and Nato officials said they had heard the report from Tolo but had no information to confirm or deny it.

Mr Obama told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Sunday that he could not allow "active plans to come to fruition without us taking some action" and would send troops again if a Taliban leader were found in Pakistan. Pakistan is furious that United States sent Navy Seals to raid bin Laden's Pakistan hideaway this month without informing Pakistani authorities in advance.

But there are also parallel efforts to get the Taliban leadership into negotiations with the Afghan government, making it unclear if such a strike would be in the interest of the American or Afghan governments.

Pakistan's foreign minister, meanwhile, arrived in Kabul to meet with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. His talks with Afghan and US officials were expected to focus on how the three countries could work together to fight terrorism, improve economic ties and forge peace in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks as part of their spring offensive against Nato, Afghan government installations and officials. Insurgents also have promised revenge attacks after the killing of bin Laden.

The Taliban claimed they were behind an attack Saturday on the main military hospital in Kabul that killed at least six Afghan medical students.

On Monday, Nato spokesman Brig Gen Josef Blotz said that sources showed another insurgent group known as the Haqqani network carried out the suicide attack.

"The Taliban falsely claimed responsibility because in their weakened state, they need to project that they still have power and relevance in an attempt to keep their ground troops motivated," Gen Blotz said.

Yesterday, a suicide bomber attacked a gathering of tribal leaders in eastern Laghman province, killing four tribal elders and wounding 14 others, the governor's spokesman said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but said it was aimed at area militia commanders.