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a.k.a. Maulavi Obaidullah
Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. (Baker and Khan 12/17/2001; Glanz and Lipton 12/20/2001; Graham and Sipress 1/10/2002; CNN 1/10/2002) Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). (Burnett 7/11/2004)
Classified files stolen from a US army base in Afghanistan and sold in a local market that date from this time include maps marking the location of al-Qaeda training camps and leaders in Pakistan. One map shows the location of four al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. This map also shows the location in Pakistan of al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other maps and documents indicate 16 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. This includes Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader. But bin Laden is not mentioned. (Ross 6/22/2006) One document dated October 2004 indicates two of the Taliban’s main leaders, Mullah Akhter Osmani and Mullah Obaidullah, are in Pakistan, while top leader Mullah Omar and four others are in southern Afghanistan. (Watson 4/10/2006)
In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” (Associated Press 3/2/2007; Associated Press 3/11/2007) He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).
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