The successful commando raid that led to the death of former al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has raised speculation that the head of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, may be the next target.
Indeed, a senior U.S. military official who recently toured through Afghanistan said that Omar should be worried.
Major General Richard Mills said the operation to kill bin Laden showed definitively “that we don't leave our missions.
Once we've targeted you, we're going to maintain our focus on you until the mission's accomplished, he told reporters.
If I was Mullah Omar I would certainly be worried. It shows the Americans are focused.
Mills also said that bin Laden’s violent death will likely hurt the morale of Taliban insurgents who are waging a ceaseless war against foreign troops and the Afghan government.
I think that has to have a psychological impact on the leadership of the insurgency that's caused the trouble in Afghanistan, he said.
Omar, who was known to be a close associate of bin Laden, remains a mysterious figure and is rarely heard from. He ruled the Taliban regime in Kabul between 1996 and 2001 before the US invasion.
A former Afghan intelligence official has said Omar (like bin Laden) is hiding out somewhere in Pakistan and protected by Pakistani intelligence.
“He [Omar] is protected by ISI. [Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, director-general of the ISI] knows as I am talking to you where is Mullah Omar and he keeps daily briefs from his officers about the location of senior Taliban leaders, simple, former intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh recently said.
Also, Senator Carl Levin, the US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, has charged that the Pakistan government has been providing a safe haven to Omar and other top terrorists.
[The terrorists] cross the border into Afghanistan and kill [our troops]. And the Pakistan government knows where they're at; they're openly living in North Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan, Levin told ABC News.
Mullah Omar [is] in Pakistan. They live openly. These people are killing us. Killing our Afghan allies. Killing our coalition partners by crossing the border.”
He also said he has “no doubt” that Pakistani government members at the highest level know the location of the terrorists.
Levin added: “So the government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn't know bin Laden was there. It's kind of hard to believe that higher-level people didn't know, but they'll continue to say that. But what they won't say is that they don't know where the [other] terrorists are, because they do know, and they've told us they know.”
In an editorial in the New York Daily News, Bing West, former assistant secretary of defense, wrote “That Bin Laden was hiding in plain sight demonstrates the complicity of the Pakistan government.”
He charged: “For nearly 10 years, we've been fighting the Taliban in the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. Yet the Taliban's leaders, including Mullah Mohammed Omar and his top lieutenants, live in comfortable compounds in neighboring Pakistan.”
West also said: “The CIA's Predator drones occasionally launch missiles at terrorist locations in the remote mountains of Pakistan, but the high-ranking terrorists who live in the suburbs have enjoyed relative safety. U.S. officials have refrained from Predator strikes near Pakistani cities because our opponents would likely respond by inciting mob violence that could destabilize the shaky Pakistani government.”
Pakistan’s government, West claims, is playing a double game.
“On the one hand, they assure us that they're hunting down Islamist terrorists. On the other hand, they shelter terrorist gangs, especially those they consider useful for attacking their archenemy India, while also providing a sanctuary to Bin Laden and his associates.”
Omar is a legitimate target for US commandos, West asserts.
“[Omar] is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,400 American and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan, in addition to thousands of Afghan men, women and children,” he wrote. “Omar is as legitimate a target as Bin Laden.”