Why Taliban leader Mullah Omar was one of world's most-wanted fugitives

The head of the Taliban vanished from public view in 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after Sept. 11. On Wednesday, the Afghan government said Mullah Omar has been dead for more than two years.

Mullah Mohammed Omar
AP Graphics

The one-eyed leader of the Taliban was the man who harbored Osama bin Laden before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, refusing a demand by then President Bush to turn him over.

"They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate," Bush said in 2001.

On the first night the U.S. bombed Afghanistan, Scott Swanson was the pilot of a predator drone tracking a suspicious convoy of vehicles.

"It was at that time that we learned that it was very likely Mullah Omar trying to escape the inbound bombers," he said.

Now retired, Swanson told CBS News the predator followed the convoy to a compound, but he was not allowed to fire his missile.

"Because there was a fear that one of the buildings inside the compound may have been a residential or local mosque," he said.

Operating out of a trailer at CIA Headquarters outside of Washington, Swanson watched the target get away.

"There was definitely frustration at the time," he said. "We had a high value target and nothing was being done about it."

Mullah Omar lived on to fight for 12 more years until, according to the Afghan government, he died of a mysterious illness at a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

Mullah Omar's death would do more than close a chapter in the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy. It would also create a void at the top of the Taliban and give another terrorist group such as ISIS an opening to move in.