All the while the Americans claimed the ex-Taliban leader, whom they had a $10 million reward out on, was in Pakistan.
As military engineers built the base, Mullah Omar decided it was time to move. With Ustaz’s help, he and Jabbar Omari relocated to Siuray, a district around twenty miles southeast of Qalat. After 2001, it had become part of the larger district of Shinkay. Mullah Omar’s father’s family hails from Siuray, and Jabbar Omari and Abdul Ustaz had both been born there. In 2005, it was still considered a pro-Taliban area.
Jabbar Omari would not confirm the precise location of Mullah Omar’s second hiding place, but interviews with former government officials and tribal leaders from Qalat and Siuray indicate that they lived near a particular village that lies along a small river. Ustaz later told his friend Zargay that he had built a small shack for Mullah Omar behind a larger mud house in the remote outskirts of the village, around three miles from the main road. A family lived in the mud house, and only two brothers in the household knew of the identity of the man living in the shack. The shack itself was situated on the river and connected to large tunnels that were used for irrigation.
Soon after Mullah Omar’s arrival in Siuray, the Americans built Forward Operating Base Wolverine, about three miles from his new home. F.O.B. Wolverine was equipped with offices in prefab containers, a canteen, and a gym, and housed around one thousand U.S. soldiers carrying out counterinsurgency operations under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2007, Lithuanian troops arrived at the base to train local Zabuli Afghan police, and the British Special Air Service and U.S. Navy Seals were also sometimes present. Foreign and Afghan military convoys increased in the area after military engineers built a thirty-mile road between Qalat and F.O.B. Sweeney, in Shinkay district, that ran through Siuray.
“It was very dangerous for us there,” Jabbar Omari told me. The two men would hear American planes flying overhead, troops walking by, and Taliban attacks on passing American convoys. Fearful he would be caught, Mullah Omar often hid in one of the irrigation tunnels. “Sometimes there was only a table width between us and the foreign military,” Jabbar Omari recalled.
Despite the presence of foreign soldiers, Jabbar Omari regularly traveled to visit his family in Omarzai, which was around six miles away, and also only three miles southwest of F.O.B. Wolverine. Jabbar Omari would stay for five to ten days and then return to Mullah Omar. Traveling to Omarzai was risky, so he mostly moved at night. According to media reports, U.S. commanders had been to the village for “key leader meetings,” where they attempted to persuade local tribal leaders to support the U.S. and the local police in the fight against the Taliban.
Though the area was sympathetic to the Taliban and the insurgency was growing stronger by the day, Jabbar Omari was frustrated that they could not turn to anyone for protection. “We couldn’t ask the Taliban to be careful and not organize attacks near us,” he told me, “because that would endanger the hiding place.” Still, locals knew that Taliban were living in the house. 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 Jabbar Omari and his mysterious friend.
By Bette Dam
Source: The Secret Life of Mullah Omar