Former Taliban Leader Mullah Omar, “Lived Within Walking Distance Of American Military Bases In Afghanistan For Years, In Embarrassing Failure Of U.S. Intelligence; Though Gen. (Ret.) Petraeus Has His Doubts
Leigh McManus posted a March 11, 2019 article on the website of the DailyMail.com noting that one of the U.S. Government’s most wanted Taliban fugitives, Mullah Omar “lived within walking distance of U.S. [military] bases in Afghanistan for years, according to a new book, which suggests embarrassing failures of U.S. Intelligence.”
“U.S. and Afghan leaders believed the one-eyed fugitive leader fled to, and eventually died in Pakistan; but, a new biography says [claims] Omar was living just three miles from a major, U.S. Forward Operating Base (FOB), in Zabul Province, where he died in 2013,” Mr. McManus wrote.
“Searching For An Enemy,” by Dutch journalist Bettie Dam, writes that “the Taliban chief lived as a virtual hermit, refusing visits from his family, and filing notebooks with jottings in an imaginary language.” Mr. McManus notes that “Dam spent more than five years researching the book, and interviewed Jabbar Omari, Omar’s bodyguard who hid and protected him after the Taliban regime was overthrown.”
“At one point,” Mr. McManus notes, “a U.S. patrol approached as Omar, and Omari were in a courtyard. Alarmed, the two men jumped into a wood pile; but, the soldiers passed without entering. A second time, U.s. troops even searched the house; but, did not uncover the concealed entrance to a secret room. Omar decided to move, when the U.S. started building FOB Lagman in 2004, just a few hundred meters from his [previous] hideout. He later moved to a second building; but,soon afterward, the Pentagon constructed FOB Wolverine — home to 1,000 U.S. troops; and, where American and British special forces were sometimes based — close by.”
“Omar dared not move again,” Ms. Dam writes, “rarely even going outside; and, often hiding in tunnels when U.S. aircraft flew over. Though he listened to the BBC’s evening Pastho-language news broadcasts, even when he learned about the death of al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden, Omar rarely commented on the outside world,” Ms. Dam claims. “The book, [Ms. Dam] goes on to claim Omar became ill in 2013; [but] did not see a doctor, and refused to travel to Pakistan for treatment, later dying in Zabul.”
“We strongly reject this delusional claim, and we see it as an effort to create and build an identity for the Taliban, and their foreign backers,” tweeted Haroon Chakhansuri — a spokesman for Afghan’s President. “We have sufficient evidence which shows he lived and died in Pakistan. Period!,” he added.
“Former CIA Director and U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, also appeared skeptical,” Mr. McManus writes, “saying the Taliban leaders decision to stay in Afghanistan would have been laden with risk.” “We had access, as needed, to anywhere inside Afghanistan; and, I would be very surprised if Mullah Omar would have taken the risk that we could come calling some evening,” Gen. Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal. “I have piles, and piles of evidence, which showed that he lived and died in Pakistan,” added Amrullah Saleh, who was the head of Afghan Intelligence from 2004-2010.
“Omar’s Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, and waged an insurgency since then,” Mr. McManus wrote. Omar, gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, thus the reason he was deposed by U.S. forces and the Taliban in tatters, post 9/11, 2001.
I certainly defer to Gen. Petraeus; but, I do not find myself as skeptical as he is. I do wonder about a Taliban denial and deception campaign, designed to make it appear that Omar was somewhere — that maybe he wasn’t. Yes, there was a high monetary reward out for his capture; but, that kind of incentive often falls on deaf ears, in the tribal-connected clans of Afghanistan. Many of the most wanted Nazis, in the immediate aftermath of WWII, were given sanctuary and shelter by a secret underground of former Nazis and sympathizers — who hid the likes of Adolph Eichmann and others from U.S. and Jewish pursuers. And, many of you may remember that Elizabeth Smart’s kidnappers were ‘living in plain sight,’ not very far from where she was kidnapped, and we couldn’t find her. And, it would not be surprising at all if the Taliban, and Mullah Omar, had a secret underground network of Taliban members and their sympathizers, who aided and abetted Omar’s ability to hide from his U.S. pursuers.
Biometrics & Identity Management Is Ushering In A New Age Of Espionage
Identity management, and the field of biometrics is disrupting the intelligence community and law enforcement, etc., as DNA-shedding, facial recognition, etc., is really bringing in a new age of espionage. DNA-shedding, facial recognition, IRIS scanning, body scanning at airports and other facilities, the texture of ones veins as well as the texture of one’s ears, digital fingerprints, digital exhaust, and so on — make it very, very difficult to stay hidden. Except of course, in the hostile, and austere, mostly disconnected environments like Afghanistan and other ungoverned areas. Big data mining, big data analytics — connecting-the-dots also adds another sophisticated layer of collection tools for intelligence and law enforcement to ferret out and discover who they are looking for. The benefits of using these kind of technologies has never been greater for the Intelligence Community, as the adversary has to be ‘near-perfect,’ in hiding — where one fatal ‘identity mistake,’ can expose their whereabouts. Again, Afghanistan being an exception. As Kate Brennan wrote back on April 6, 2015 in Foreign Policy, “Gone are the days of entering a country with a false passport, wearing a wig and a mustache to hide/disguise one’s identity.” “Another part of the field that is quickly growing,” she noted at the time,” is the collection and analysis of DNA swabs, which can come from the inside of one’s cheek, a hair follicle, or even a discarded cigarette. Because DNA matches take hours to develop, it currently is not a viable biometric for fast-moving border security checks.”
Of course, all these new tools and techniques also makes it a lot more challenging to keep our own undercover operatives from being exposed.
As we look ahead and biometric technology evolves and matures, we might expect to see a version of ‘Spok’s Tri-Corder,’ whereby soldiers in the future, who are looking for the likes of a Mullah Omar, will use a hand-held device — that has the subject’s DNA in it — to scan an immediate area they are searching. Or, a tactical drone, with a DNA-enabled signature warhead, for an up close, and personal kill. Such a hand-held device, may well have sensed out that Omar was right under their nose — if true — at one time. How close we are to developing technology like this — hand-held, or tactical drone, is unknown to me; but, it would not surprise me if DARPA has some efforts ongoing in this most disruptive domain. It is getting a whole lot more challenging and exceedingly harder — to stay hidden for any real length of time. Without of course having to live in a cave, or like a hermit, totally disconnected from the real world. RCP, fortunascorner.com