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A Visit to Mohammed Omar's Former House - 2002-02-04

The city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan served as a headquarters for leaders of the former Taleban regime. Most of them have fled after the start of U.S.-led bombing in the region more than three months ago. Patricia Nunan recently visited the home of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, and gives us this report.

On the outskirts of Afghanistan's southern city Kandahar, lies a compound which by Afghan standards could be best described as palatial. It is the former home of the Taleban regime's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Even the approach to the compound suggests it was a place of great importance. An anti-aircraft gun now goes unmanned outside the walled camp. The checkpoint there now manned by soldiers loyal to Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai.

Further along the road to the compound itself, a mosque now goes apparently unused. Its walls riddled with bulletholes.

A visitor with permission from local authorities is welcomed into Omar's compound itself by the first of about a dozen soldiers now in charge of the site. Just inside the gate is a courtyard, its walls decorated with murals of idyllic, pastoral scenes of the Afghan countryside. Many of them are pockmarked with bullets and are crumbling apart.

Nearby is a small building. "This is the guesthouse Mullah Omar would come from the door of his house in the morning or evening to meet people here," the guard says. "Senior officials in Afghanistan used to have meetings with Mullah Omar in that guesthouse."

The entire compound is now littered debris from the U.S.-led bombing of the site, and pockmarked with bullets. Windows are shattered and dust coats nearly everything.

None of the men guarding the house now were part of the forces to storm the building during the fall of Kandahar. They do not know what the house will be used for in the future. A few smile when asked if they are surprised to be living in Mullah Omar's house. But most seem unimpressed. They simply say they were sent by Mr. Karzai to mind the house, and that is what they are going to do.

None of the guards care to even hazard a guess as to where Mullah Omar may be now. But there is one thing they are certain of. "If we see him, we'll catch him," says one guard. "We'll put him in prison," says another.

The chief guard, Assad Dollah offers a tour of Omar's entire house.

There are four bedrooms for each of Mullah Omar's four wives. In one, a crib remains but there is little less. Mr. Dollah says the entire compound was looted before he got there.

From a roof-top terrace, artillery fire can be heard from a U.S. marine camp a few kilometers up the road, where U.S. troops are training members of the Afghan army.

Parts of the house's roof had been fortified with tires covered in layers of mud, a makeshift bunker to defend against bombing. It did not work. Twisted and melted tires now sit in a crater where that roof used to be. From that vantage point, one can see the houses where Mullah Omar's other relatives used to live in the far corner of the compound, now little more than heaps of bricks.

For Mr. Dollah, the most telling example of Mullah Omar's former lifestyle can be found in [the remains of the] barn.

There, Mullah Omar's cows enjoyed an electric ceiling fan, lights and even individual water spigots, modern conveniences that most Afghan people live without. "Our children have to carry water great distances with donkeys or by foot. So this is not fair. Mullah Omar built a modern water system just for his cows," he says.

The tour ends with an invitation to tea, in a surprising place. Mullah Omar's own bedroom left relatively intact, where the same bed Omar slept in remains. "This should be in an American book," Mr. Dollah says. "Just look, during Taliban regime, in Mullah Omar's regime, no woman can be seen on the street and an American woman is now sitting on his bed."

With that, Mr. Dollah has an assistant take a photo of this odd, historic twist, and the tour is over.