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Feb 17th, 2010

Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander

Afghan described as most significant Taliban figure to be detained since start of Afghanistan war more than eight years ago

A man believed to be Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in a photograph taken in 1998, given to The New York Times by a former photographer for the Taliban.

By Mark Mazzetti and Dexter Filkins

February 16, 2010


WASHINGTON — The Taliban‘s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and American intelligence forces, according to American government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by American officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mullah Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with American and Pakistani intelligence officials both taking part in interrogations, according to the officials.

It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the groups spiritual leader. …

His capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer who last spring led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.

Details of the raid remain murky, but officials said that it had been carried out by Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, and that C.I.A. operatives had accompanied the Pakistanis. …

American officials believe that besides running the Taliban’s military operations, Mullah Baradar runs the group’s leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura because its leaders for years have been thought to be hiding near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province in Pakistan. …

The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban. Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan — as they have quietly done for years — without endangering themselves. Indeed, American officials have speculated that Pakistani security officials could have picked up Mullah Baradar long ago.

The officials said that Pakistan was leading the interrogation of Mullah Baradar, but that Americans were also involved. The conditions of the questioning are unclear. In its first week in office, the Obama administration banned harsh interrogations like waterboarding by Americans, but the Pakistanis have long been known to subject prisoners to brutal questioning.

American intelligence officials believe that elements within Pakistan’s security services have covertly supported the Taliban with money and logistical help — largely out of a desire to retain some ally inside Afghanistan for the inevitable day when the Americans leave. …

For the moment it is unclear how the capture of Mullah Baradar will affect the overall direction of the Taliban, who have so far refused to disavow Al Qaeda and to accept the Afghan Constitution. American officials have hoped to win over some midlevel members of the group. …

Mullah Baradar oversees the groups operations across its primary area of activity in southern and western Afghanistan. While some of the insurgent groups active in Afghanistan receive only general guidance from their leaders, the Taliban are believed to be somewhat hierarchical, with lower-ranking field commanders often taking directions and orders from their leaders across the border.

In an attempt to improve the Taliban’s image both inside the country and abroad, Mullah Baradar last year helped issue a “code of conduct” for Taliban fighters. The handbook, small enough to be carried in the pocket of each Taliban foot soldier, gave specific guidance about topics including how to avoid civilian casualties, how to win the hearts and minds of villagers, and the necessity of limiting suicide attacks to avoid a backlash.

In recent months, a growing number of Taliban leaders are believed to have fled to Karachi, a sprawling, chaotic city in southern Pakistan hundreds of miles from the turbulence of the Afghan frontier. A diplomat based in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview last month that Mullah Omar had moved to Karachi, and that several of his colleagues were there, too.

The leadership council, which includes more than a dozen of the Taliban’s best-known leaders, charts the overall direction of the war, assigns Taliban “shadow governors” to run many Afghan provinces and districts, and chooses battlefield commanders. It also oversees a number of subcommittees that direct other aspects of the war, like political, religious and military affairs.

According to Wahid Muzhda, a former Taliban official in Kabul who stays in touch with former colleagues, the council meets every three or four months to plot strategy. As recently as three years ago, he said, the council had 19 members. Since then, six have been killed or captured. Others have since filled the empty seats, he said.

Among the council members killed were Mullah Dadullah, who died during a raid by NATO and Afghan forces in 2007. Among the captured were Mullah Obaidullah, the Taliban defense minister, who reported to Mr. Baradar.

“The only man more powerful than Baradar is Omar,” Mr. Muzhda said. “He and Omar cannot meet very often because of security reasons, but they have a very good relationship.”

Western and Afghan officials familiar with the workings of the Taliban’s leadership have described Mullah Baradar as one of the Taliban’s most approachable leaders, and the one most ready to negotiate with the Afghan government.

Mediators who have worked to resolve kidnappings and other serious issues have often approached the Taliban leadership through him.

As in the case of the reclusive Mullah Omar, the public details of Mullah Baradar’s life are murky. According to an Interpol alert, he was born in 1968 in Weetmak, a village in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province. Terrorism experts describe him as a skilled military leader who runs many high-level meetings of the Taliban’s top commanders in Afghanistan.

In answers to questions submitted by Newsweek last summer, Mullah Baradar said that he could not maintain “continuous contacts” with Mullah Omar, but that he received advice on “important topics” from the cleric.

In the same interview, Mullah Baradar said he welcomed a large increase in American troops in Afghanistan because the Taliban “want to inflict maximum losses on the Americans,” which is possible only when the Americans are present here in large numbers and come out of their fortified places.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mullah Baradar was assigned by Mullah Omar to assume overall command of Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan. In that role, he oversaw a large group of battle-hardened Arab and foreign fighters who were based in the northern cities of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif.

In November 2001, as Taliban forces collapsed after the American invasion, Mullah Baradar and several other senior Taliban leaders were captured by Afghan militia fighters aligned with the United States. But Pakistani intelligence operatives intervened, and Mullah Baradar and the other Taliban leaders were released, according to a senior official of the Northern Alliance, the group of Afghans aligned with the United States.


Related report

Arrest of Taliban chief may be crucial for Pakistanis
(Carlotta Gall and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, Feb. 17, 2010)


Late update

Pakistan Confirms Arrest of Taliban’s No. 2

Feb. 17, 2010

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan confirmed for the first time Wednesday that it has the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 leader in custody, and officials said he was providing useful intelligence that was being shared with the United States. …

The Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was arrested earlier this month in a joint operation by CIA and Pakistani security forces in the southern port city of Karachi, U.S. and Pakistani officials said on condition of anonymity Tuesday. The army on Wednesday gave the first public confirmation of the arrest.

“At the conclusion of detailed identification procedures, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar,” chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in a written message to reporters. “The place of arrest and operational details cannot be released due to security reasons.”

‘A big success’

The White House also confirmed the capture for the first time Wednesday. Spokesman Robert Gibbs praised Pakistan and told reporters the arrest “is a big success for our mutual efforts in the region.” …

A U.S. official who was briefed on the case told The AP that Baradar is not fully cooperating with authorities, and he hasn’t provided any actionable information. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Baradar was the second-in-command behind Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and was said to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the organization’s leadership council, which is believed based in Pakistan. He was a founding member of the Taliban and is the most important figure of the hard-line Islamist movement to be arrested since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Baradar, who also functioned as the link between Mullah Omar and field commanders, has been in detention for more than 10 days and was talking to interrogators, two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

One said that Baradar had provided “useful information” to them and that Pakistan officials had shared it with their U.S. counterparts. A third official said Wednesday that Baradar was being held at an office of Pakistan’s most powerful spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, in Karachi.

Pakistan no longer a safe haven?

Baradar’s arrest suggests the Pakistani intelligence services may be ready to deny Afghan militant leaders a safe haven in Pakistan — something critics have long accused them of doing.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called the arrest important and rejected suggestions that Pakistan was not cooperating with the United States against militants, citing as evidence recent military operations against Taliban strongholds in the Swat Valley and Waziristan tribal region. …

The arrest may also push other insurgent leaders thought to be sheltering in Pakistan toward reconciliation talks with the Afghan government — a development increasingly seen as key to ending the eight-year war. …


2/24/10 Update

Pakistan to give up Taliban No. 2 (AP, Feb. 24, 2010) – A top Taliban leader picked up in Pakistan as part of a recent crackdown on insurgents will be handed over to Afghanistan, an Afghan government official said Wednesday. Islamabad said, however, that it had received no formal request to turn him over and that he could be tried first in Pakistan. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is one of at least three Afghan Taliban commanders who have been captured in recent weeks in Pakistan, where militants have also sustained blows from suspected U.S. missile strikes, including four killed Wednesday in an al-Qaida and Taliban stronghold in northwest Pakistan, intelligence officials said. … Full report



Taliban, Afghan leaders reportedly held talks (AP, Feb. 17, 2010) — Taliban representatives held peace talks with Afghan government envoys at the end of January on a resort island in the Maldives, a spokesman for the president of the Indian Ocean nation said Wednesday. The three-day talks were aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the ongoing Afghan war. … Full story


2/19/10 Update

Marines Seize Taliban HQ, IDs, Photos

Taliban marksmen try to slow advance but fall back

As Marines from 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment advanced on Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, they found a compound with dozens of Taliban-issued ID cards, official Taliban letterhead stationery and government stamps. (Photo credit: David Guttenfelder / AP)

Feb. 19, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — After a fierce gunfight, U.S. Marines seized a strongly defended compound Friday that appears to have been a Taliban headquarters — complete with photos of fighters posing with their weapons, dozens of Taliban-issued ID cards and graduation diplomas from a training camp in Pakistan.

Insurgents who had been using the field office just south of Marjah’s town center abandoned it by the end of the day’s fighting, as Marines converged on them from all sides, escalating operations to break resistance in this Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province.

Marines from Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines fought their way south from the town center Friday after residents told them that several dozen insurgent fighters had regrouped in the area.

Throughout the day, small groups of Taliban marksmen tried to slow the advance with rifle fire as they slowly fell back in face of the Marine assault.

“They know that they are outnumbered … and that in the end they don’t have the firepower to compete with us conventionally,” said Capt. Joshua Winfrey of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

As the Marines advanced, they found rows of abandoned bunkers dug alongside an irrigation canal that the Taliban had used to fire on them the day before. Located at a crossroads, the five abandoned bunkers, camouflaged under a layer of mud, looked out across an open field. In the near distance, large stones had been set up to help the Taliban site in on their targets.

Just behind the bunkers, the Marines found a compound, surrounded by a mudbrick wall, typical of family homes in the town.

Inside the compound, where a few chickens still wandered, Marines uncovered dozens of Taliban-issued ID cards, official Taliban letterhead stationery and government stamps.

They also found graduation diplomas from an insurgent training camp in Baluchistan, an area of southern Pakistan that borders Helmand province, along with photos of fighters posing with AK-47 assault rifles.

The insurgents had fled with their weapons and ammunition. The Marines said they’d been coming under fire all day — but never saw any of the elusive gunmen, who retreated to resume hit-and-run tactics using snipers and small gun squads to harass Marine lines.

Lima Company’s advance was part of a move by several Marine companies to converge on a pocket of Taliban fighters from all four directions. The Marines believe they’ve cornered what appeared to be a significant Taliban fighting force.

“It seems that it’s their last stand,” Winfrey said.

NATO said one service member died Friday in a small-arms attack but did not identify the victim by nationality.

Six coalition troops were killed Thursday, NATO said, making it the deadliest day since the offensive began Feb. 13. The death toll for the operation stands at 12 NATO troops and one Afghan soldier. Britain’s Defense Ministry said three British soldiers were among those killed Thursday.

David Guttenfelder / AP
Lima Company’s advance was part of a move by several Marine companies to converge on a pocket of Taliban fighters from all four directions. The Marines believe they’ve cornered what appeared to be a significant Taliban fighting force.

No precise figures on Taliban deaths have been released, but senior Marine officers say intelligence reports suggest more than 120 have died. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The Marjah offensive is the biggest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and a test of President Barack Obama’s strategy for reversing the rise of the Taliban while protecting civilians.

Marjah, 360 miles southwest of Kabul, has an estimated population of 80,000 and had been under Taliban control for years. …


1/19/2011 Update

Mullah Omar Treated in Pakistan After Heart Attack

Image: Mullah Mohammad Omar
Mullah Mohammad Omar, the elusive chief of the Taliban, who fled to Pakistan in 2001. (Photo credit: Getty Images file)

The Associated Press and Reuters via
January 19, 2011

Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was treated in hospital with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence agency after suffering a heart attack earlier this month, the Washington Post reported.

Citing “The Eclipse Group,” a private network run by ex-CIA, State Department and military officials, the newspaper said the elusive Taliban chief spent several days at a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

Most of the senior members of the Afghan Taliban, including Mullah Omar, fled to neighboring Pakistan when U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled their strict Islamist regime in late 2001.

The firm said its source was a doctor, who was not identified. According to the report, Mullah Omar was “rushed” to hospital by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency on Jan. 7 [2011].

“While I was not personally in the operating theater, my evaluation based on what I have heard and seeing the patient in the hospital is that Mullah Omar had a cardiac catheter complication resulting in either bleeding or a small cerebral vascular incident, or both,” the Post quoted the doctor as saying.

“After the operation, there seemed to be some brain damage with Mullah Omar having slurred speech,” he added.

The Eclipse Group’s report said that “after 3-4 days of post-operative care in the hospital, he was released to the ISI and ordered to take absolute bed rest when at home for at least several days.”

It said that Mullah Omar was staying at “an ISI ‘guest house’ in Karachi under ISI guard.”

However, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, denied the report. …

According to the Post, the Eclipse Group is run by Duane “Dewey” Clarridge, who was the first chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center; Kim Stevens, a retired U.S. diplomat; and Brad A. Patty, a civilian advisor to the U.S. Army’s 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Iraq from 2007 to 2009. …


Related reports on this site

Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010)

Marines Mass for Marjah Assault (Feb. 10, 2010)

Major Afghan Offensive Imminent (Feb. 5, 2010)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 17, 2009

U.S. Warns North Korea on Missiles

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that North Korea marked the 67th birthday of its leader, Kim Jong Il, by claiming it had the right to “space development” — a term it has used in the past to disguise a missile test as a satellite launch.

8 Responses to “Taliban’s Top Commander Captured”
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