Report: Taliban’s top military commander captured
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Taliban’s top military commander has been captured in Pakistan in a joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces, The New York Times reported.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, described as the No. 2 behind Taliban founder and Osama bin Laden associate Mullah Muhammad Omar, has been in Pakistan’s custody for several days, the newspaper reported on its Web site late Monday. It quoted U.S. government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Baradar was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in a raid by Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, with CIA operatives accompanying the Pakistanis, the Times reported. Pakistan has been leading the interrogation of Baradar, but Americans were also involved, it said.
Baradar heads the Taliban’s military council and was elevated in the body after the 2006 death of military chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani. Baradar is known to coordinate the movement’s military operations throughout the south and southwest of Afghanistan. His area of direct responsibility stretches over Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.
If confirmed, Baradar’s arrest would be a major setback for the Taliban.
He may also have information on the whereabouts of Omar and bin Laden.
A spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan told The Associated Press that Baradar was still free, though he did not provide any evidence.
“We totally deny this rumor. He has not been arrested,” Zabiullah Mujahid told the AP by telephone. He said the report of the arrest was Western propaganda aimed at undercutting the Taliban fighting against an offensive in the southern Afghan town of Marjah, a Taliban haven.
“The Taliban are having success with our jihad. It is to try to demoralize the Taliban who are on jihad in Marjah and all of Afghanistan,” he said.
The Times said it learned of the operation against Baradar on Thursday but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials who argued that publicizing it would end a valuable intelligence-gathering effort by making Baradar’s associates aware of his capture. The newspaper said it decided to publish the news after White House officials acknowledged Baradar’s capture was becoming widely known in the region.
The CIA declined comment late Monday on the Times report.
Word of Baradar’s capture came as U.S. Marine and Afghan units pressed deeper into Marjah, facing sporadic rocket and mortar fire as they moved through suspected insurgent neighborhoods on the third day of a NATO offensive to reclaim the town.