KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said Friday that deposed spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, is surrounded near the city of Baghran in Afghanistan's central mountains.
Abdullah vowed to capture Omar and ensure he was put on trial, but did not elaborate on whether the troops surrounding the Taliban leader were Afghan or American. Afghan intelligence officials in Kandahar, south of Baghran, have said negotiations for his surrender are under way with tribal leaders.
The Pentagon would not confirm that Omar — the United States' second most wanted terrorist fugitive, after Usama bin Laden — was surrounded.
"The latest on Omar is that we do not know where he is," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters in Washington on Friday. "If we have information about where we think he might be it would be really foolish to say we think he's there because then he probably would not be there."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said Washington — and the Afghan government — would oppose any deal allowing Omar to escape.
Abdullah told reporters in the capital, Kabul, that the sitation concerning Omar "will be made clear tomorrow or the day after." The foreign minister is the highest-ranking Afghan official to confirm Omar's location.
U.S. officials have said they doubt the fugitive Taliban leader is willing to surrender.
If Omar doesn't agree to surrender, the Baghran region in the mountains north of Kandahar where he is believed to be hiding faces possible bombing by U.S.-led warplanes, Afghan and Pakistani military officials said.
Kandahar's governor, Gul Agha, said Thursday his men were not negotiating with Omar but were continuing to search for him and to persuade tribal leaders to disarm.
Abdullah called Omar "a terrorist" and said he will be put on trial — but whether in Aghanistan or by an international tribunal "will be decided when we capture him."
Nasrat Ullah, a secretary for Kandahar intelligence chief Haji Gulalai, said negotiations for Omar's surrender were "continuing" Friday. he said the village where Omar was located was surrounded, but he did not identify it.
Tawheedi said the whereabouts of bin Laden — who was sheltered for years by Omar and like him has vanished since the Taliban's fall in late December — was not known. There had been reports bin Laden had slipped into Pakistan, "but now we simply don't know. He could be back here or not."
In neighboring Pakistan, meanwhile, intelligence officials in Peshawar were questioning the Taliban's former ambassador in Islamabad, who was arrested Thursday, a senior official in the regional Home Ministry said on condition of anonymity.
It was not known why Abdul Salaam Zaeef had been arrested, but Pakistani Minister of Planning Haji Mohammad Muhaqeq branded Zaeef a criminal and a leader of the "Afghan Al Qaeda" who "committed crimes against humanity, in the world and in Afghanistan" for his role in the Taliban.
Pakistan was once the Taliban's strongest ally — until it joined the U.S. campaign against the hard-line Islamic militua — and Zaeef had been the Taliban's most prominent spokesman.
Asked about talks over Omar, Rumsfeld said in Washington that the United States would not approve of any negotiations "which would result in freeing of people who ought not to be freed," including those involved in terrorism or harboring terrorists.
"I know that the interim government is right on the same sheet of music with us, with respect to this. They want the Taliban caught," Rumsfeld said Thursday.