New book by Dutch journalist Bette Dam claims "US, and almost everyone else, had it wrong" and that "the Pentagon and the CIA knew little about Mullah Mohammad Omar [Taliban founder]."
Mullah Mohammad Omar "never stepped foot in Pakistan," and instead chose to hide in his native land Afghanistan where he lived "just a few miles from a major US base" housing thousands of soldiers, a new biography of the reclusive Afghan Taliban founder claims.
The finding indicates massive breakdown of US intelligence, Omar's mistrust of Pakistan – which sided with the US in War on Terror – and his limited role in leading the insurgency that continues till date.
"The story that emerges is that the US, and almost everyone else, had it wrong," claims an investigative biography, Searching for An Enemy, by a Dutch journalist Bette Dam.
The book was published in Dutch last month and some of its extracts were published in English by a new think-tank Zomia.
"He never lived in Pakistan. Instead, he spent the remainder of his life in a pair of small villages in the remote, mountainous province of Zabul," Dam was told by Abdul Jabbar Omari, Mullah Omar's bodyguard from the moment the Taliban leader went into hiding until his death in 2013.
Omari was the person who traveled to Pakistan to share the news of Mullah Omar's death with the senior Taliban commanders. He was arrested after his return and remains in the custody of Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (or NDS) since 2017.
Afghan government and Taliban didn't immediately comment on the new claims.
US upends Karzai's decision
The book details "Shah Wali Kot Agreement", between the Taliban and then Afghan leader Hamid Karzai after US invasion in 2001, and immediate hand over of Taliban leadership by Mullah Omar to trusted member Mullah Obaidullah.
Under Obaidullah's management the Taliban agreed to surrender and retire from the war.
Karzai's declaration of a general amnesty to Taliban pitted him against the US, which considered Afghan Taliban a serious threat and managed to block Karzai's attempts to reconcile with the Taliban.
The biography says the house in Qalat, capital of southern Zabul province, where both Omar and Omari hid was a typical Afghan mud-walled compound with a large courtyard.
"A row of rooms lined one wall, with a larger L-shaped room occupying the corner, where Mullah Omar stayed. There was no apparent door to the room — instead, the entrance was a secret door, what appeared to be a cupboard high on the wall," the biography says.
It says the American forces came close to the hideout twice in the four years Mullah Omar stayed there.
In 2004, Mullah Omar moved to Siuray, a nearby district, where the Americans built Forward Operating Base Wolverine, "about three miles from his new home."
The shack where Mullah Omar lived was situated on the river "and connected to large tunnels that were used for irrigation."
As helicopters and jets hovered over the village, Mullah Omar sometime took refuge in the irrigation tunnels, the book says.
"As the population turned against the government due to its corruption and American atrocities, they began to offer food and clothing to the household for Omari and his mysterious friend [Mullah Omar]."
The book quoting Zabul tribal leader Atta Jan says Karzai's leads were rejected by Americans who insisted that "Mullah Omar was in Pakistan."
"In fact, though they claimed otherwise, the Pentagon and the CIA knew little about Mullah Omar," the biography says.
Mullah Omar's death
On April 23, 2013, Mullah Omar passed away and was buried by Omari and his two assistants "in a nondescript grave, without a coffin."
When Mullah Omar's death was announced, a senior Afghan official expressed his frustration to Dam.
"Who protected him. The Americans searched every house. How did they not find him?" he told her wondering how could Mullah Omar live for four years in a house near the governor's compound and an NDS branch.
Dam argues the Taliban leader never actively led his troops against the opponents and instead "simply removed himself from the practical world."
"This," she claims," appears to have served the interests of both the Taliban and the United States."
By hiding his death for about two years, Taliban managed to unify itself and continue fighting "while the US policy in Afghanistan was linked ultimately to the idea that Mullah Omar and bin Laden were in league together."
The Taliban leader's importance, the Dutch journalist says, "lay in what he represented to both sides, not in what he actually did."