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Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 10:05 GMT
Hunt intensifies for Taleban leader
Afghan refugees fleeing Kandahar
Kandahar is in chaos following the Taleban surrender
Speculation is intensifying over the whereabouts of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, after his fighters gave up control of their last major stronghold - the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.


If Mullah Omar is found, he must face trial

Hamid Karzai
Afghan interim leader
A spokesman for Gul Agha Sherzai, the former governor of Kandahar, said Mullah Omar was being held in the city under the protection of a former mujahideen commander, Mullah Naqibullah, who is sympathetic to the Taleban.

US chief of staff Andrew Card declared that the Bush administration was also "pretty sure" the Taleban leader remained in the city.

But Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai was less confident.

"We don't know where Mullah Omar is," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"We are looking for him. He is a fugitive."

In other developments:

  • Al-Qaeda fighters offer fierce resistance as American planes and anti-Taleban forces attack Osama Bin Laden's hideouts in eastern Afghanistan
  • Uzbekistan agrees to reopen its "friendship bridge" to Afghanistan to speed up the delivery of humanitarian aid
  • US Secretary of State Colin Powell, currently in Uzbekistan, cancels a planned visit to Kyrgyzstan because of bad weather
  • The head of United Nations peacekeeping operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, calls for a multinational force to be deployed in Afghanistan as soon as possible
  • Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf calls Mr Karzai to offer help to his fledgling Afghan administration

Mr Karzai has insisted that Mullah Omar will be arrested if found.

"I have given him every chance to denounce terrorism and now the time has run out," he said. "If he is found, he must face trial."

US Marines man their posts in defence of Camp Rhino
US military action in Afghanistan is far from over, says President Bush
But Washington is still undecided as to what to do with the Taleban leader and his top commanders if they are captured, according to General Tommy Franks, chief of the US Central Command.

"Do we demand to take them ourselves out of Afghanistan or could they perhaps be handled in some other way by the government within Afghanistan?" he said.

"I'm not sure what policy decision will be taken on that issue."

The BBC's Katty Kay in Washington says the US would prefer both Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden - the man suspected of masterminding the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington - to be killed by opposition forces on the ground, eliminating the political risks of putting either on trial.

Power struggle

US forces have meanwhile been engaged on the ground against Taleban troops trying to flee Kandahar, as well as bombing them from the air.

The situation within Kandahar itself is thought to be extremely tense, with reports of clashes between rival groups seeking to cement new powerbases.

Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar
Mullah Omar is accused of harbouring terrorists
There are currently three competing areas of control.

One is led by forces loyal to Mr Karzai, while Mr Sherzai controls another and a third is in the hands of another opposition leader, Mullah Naqibullah.

The rival leaders have set up a shura, or city council, to bring an end to the clashes and restore some form of civic administration.

BBC correspondents say that, with the Taleban's collapse all but complete, the US campaign is now focusing on the hunt for Bin Laden.

But he has proved as elusive as his friend and ally Mullah Omar.

Anti-Taleban forces have advanced on a major cave complex thought to be Bin Laden's main operating base, but have so far found no trace of the suspected terrorist.

There is some speculation that he may have slipped into Pakistan, but the US State Department has expressed confidence that he remains inside Afghanistan.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Greste
"The nightmare for Kandahar's civilians continues"
The BBC's Janet Cohen
"Keeping the peace will be as hard as fighting the war"
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"There's concern that the interim leader did not ensure Mullah Omar's capture"
See also:

07 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Changing role for US military
07 Dec 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Naqibullah
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kandahar's troubled past
07 Dec 01 | South Asia
CIA questioned 'American Taleban'
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
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