WASHINGTON - Reclusive Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar told an American diplomat in a rare conversation that the August 1998 US strikes against Afghanistan would lead to increased terrorism, according to a recently declassified document released on Friday.

"Omar warned that the strikes would be counterproductive to the US. They could spark more, not less, terrorist attacks. And they would further increase Islamic solidarity against the US," the State Department cable said.

It was written on August 22, 1998, by Michael Malinowski, then a State Department official who dealt with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh. The cable was released by The National Security Archive, a non-government research institute that collects and publishes declassified documents.

Omar surprised Malinowski by coming on the phone during a conversation the American diplomat was having with a Taleban aide. It was the first known contact between the Taleban leader and a US government official, the document said.

The conversation occurred just days after US cruise missile strikes on suspected al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in reprisal for the Aug. 7 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, which killed 224 people.

Omar advised Malinowski that then-President Bill Clinton should be forced to resign.

"He said that in order to rebuild US popularity in the Islamic world and because of his current domestic political difficulties, Congress should force President Clinton to resign," the document said. "He said that he was aware of no evidence that (Osama) bin Laden had engaged in or planned terrorist acts while on Afghan soil."

American forces have been hunting for Omar since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent US bombing of Afghanistan that ousted the Taleban from power.

Three years before Sept. 11, Omar told the American diplomat the United States should remove its forces from the Gulf and warned the United States was seen as a threat to Islam's holiest sites, the 1998 cable said.

Malinowski tried to convince Omar to take bin Laden into custody or expel him from Afghanistan, arguing that no Pashtun should allow a guest to abuse Afghan hospitality and that bin Laden "was like a guest who was shooting at neighbours out of the host's window."

"Omar conducted himself in a careful and controlled manner. At no time did he bluster or threaten," the cable said.

It ended with a comment that Omar's contact with a US government official "is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American."

That showed how seriously the Taleban viewed the 1998 US strikes on Afghanistan and indicated its interest in a dialogue with the United States on bin Laden and other issues, the cable said.

The National Security Archive said it planned to post a new set of documents on its website on US-Taleban negotiations over bin Laden at www.nsarchive.org.


Herald Feature: September 11

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