KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The head of intelligence for the province of Kandahar pledged Tuesday to help the United States hunt down Mullah Mohammed Omar if asked, and stood by his reports that the Taliban leader retreated to the north with troops and heavy arms 12 days ago.
If Omar is captured, he will be put on trial and executed in Afghanistan, vowed Haji Gulalai, unless the United States or the United Nations wants him handed over.
Although Gulalai promised during an interview that anti-Taliban forces would do their "level best" to capture Omar, the intelligence chief also suggested that Omar's apprehension is not the top priority for his agency, which is working to bring security and set up a government here.
He complained that before it surrendered power, the Taliban looted government facilities, destroying records.
Gulalai described the Baghran district in Helmand province where Omar is believed to be hiding as "all mountains." He compared it to the cave complex at Tora Bora where fighters were hoping to find Osama bin Laden: "Al Qaeda has worked for five or six years on these places so everything there cannot be reached easily."
As for whether his men would be marching off to search for Omar, Gulalai said his attention was focused on Kandahar and gathering stray weapons. "De-weaponization, this is the most important problem," he said.
Gulalai said that if a search for Omar is mounted, it could be done by the anti-Taliban forces on the ground, if the United States helped with air support.
"Whatever the United Nations and the Americans want from us, we are ready. But we are facing a lot of problems here and now. We are starting our government from scratch. Security is a big task. So the priority is to secure the people so that people will think that this is a good government. We . . . face a bundle of problems."
If Omar were seized, he said, there would be no shortage of charges against him: taking of state resources, the killing of thousands of people by the Taliban government, the destruction of the country, the bringing of terrorism and terrorists to Afghanistan and the distorted teaching of Islam. "He could be hanged for any one of them," Gulalai said.
According to Gulalai, Kandahar's police force has been staffed with 700 men and the intelligence service has 230 people, including 30 former Afghan army officers. The mission of the intelligence service is "to save the country from internal and foreign terrorists." Noting that terrorists had come to Afghanistan from around the world, he said that ridding the country of them will be a long-term task.
In what could be a harbinger of unrest in Kandahar, Gulalai spoke out against Mullah Naquibullah, the acting military commander who has an uneasy truce with the province's governor, Gul Agha Shirzai.
"We can never leave him in government," Gulalai said of Naquibullah. "He is the right hand of the Taliban and Al Qaeda."
He accused Naquibullah of facilitating the Taliban leader's escape from Kandahar and blamed him for the standoff at a Kandahar hospital where nine Arab Al Qaeda fighters are holed up in a room and threatening to blow themselves up if approached.
Despite such problems, Gulalai said, Kandahar will eventually settle down. "I am 100% optimistic that Kandahar will be more than any other province secure and prosperous."
He also said not to worry about Omar. "I assure you that very soon we will arrest him, bring him to prison, put him on trial and then he will be hanged."