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US to Get Custody of Omar if Taleban Leader Surrenders

U.S. defense officials say they expect to get custody of Mullah Mohamed Omar, if the fugitive Taleban leader surrenders to Afghan authorities.

The Pentagon cannot confirm reports that negotiations are currently under way, northwest of the Afghan city of Kandahar, specifically for the surrender of Mullah Omar.

Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem of the military's Joint Staff says he understands the talks there are instead for the surrender of some 1,500 Taleban fighters.

"These are Taleban forces," he said. "They are looking to negotiate themselves out of a predicament with anti-Taleban forces."

Still, Admiral Stufflebeem says U.S. officials are monitoring the negotiations closely.

And chief Pentagon spokewoman Victoria Clarke makes clear that if Mullah Omar is there and does surrender, the United States expects Afghan authorities to turn him over.

"We expect to have control of him and... from what we have seen, from reports from the interim government, from anti-Taleban forces, they understand and have said, 'we understand that if we come in control of Omar, he will be turned over to the United States,' " she explained.

The United States has already taken into custody over 200 Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist fighters. However officials say one of their top objectives remains the capture of such senior figures as Mullah Omar and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

U.S. forces remain on the hunt, according to Admiral Stufflebeem, who says an operation conducted by Marines near Kandahar in recent days was an intelligence-gathering mission at facilities once used by the Taleban and al-Qaida.

Admiral Stufflebeem says there are still al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan and some small groups may be trying to regroup as a fighting force.

He also says the Pentagon cannot confirm reports that a senior Taleban intelligence official was killed in a recent U.S. bombing raid.