Top Taliban Commander Captured

U.S. and Pakistani intelligence operatives captured the Taliban's second-in-command. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar effectively ran the organization, U.S. officials say, directing Taliban military strategy in Afghanistan and controlling the group's finances.

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U.S. and Pakistani security forces have captured the man at the core of Taliban operations in Afghanistan. His name is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Officially, the Taliban's number two, Mullah Baradar worked closely with the group's founder, Mullah Mohammed Omar. But Baradar effectively ran the organization, including its military operations and finances. In a moment, we'll hear more about the man himself, from his early days fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan to his rise through the Taliban ranks.

But first, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly explores the significance of his capture and whether Mullah Baradar is talking to interrogators.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: U.S. spy agencies have been chasing Mullah Baradar for years. A U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked not to be named while discussing a classified operation, says Baradar's capture will deal a severe psychological blow to the Taliban and at a time when it's already facing increased military pressure. It's notable too that Baradar was captured in a city, Karachi, far from the tribal areas where most of the action is. Senator John Kerry chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and is in Islamabad today for talks. He told CBS News, this is a sign that Pakistan now recognizes quote, "this fight is their fight."

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee): Wherever people go, wherever they are, the government of Pakistan is determined to continue to ferret out those people who engage in violent extremist acts against the people of Pakistan.

KELLY: U.S. Defense and intelligence officials describe Mullah Baradar's detention as significant partly because of who he is and partly because of what he knows. Richard Barrett, who heads the al-Qaida and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations, says Baradar could be the key to catching the Taliban's very biggest fish.

Mr. RICHARD BARRETT (United Nation's al-Qaida and Taliban Monitoring Team): He will certainly know where Mullah Omar is, will certainly know how to get in touch with him because if anybody in the Taliban retains regular contact with Mullah Omar, it is Mullah Baradar. He is the key link.

KELLY: That said, Barrett believes it's unlikely Baradar would immediately give up someone he's been so close to for years. Rather, Barrett says interrogators may be coaxing from him big picture intelligence about the state of the Taliban, what its leaders want, what it would take to negotiate an end to the war.

Mr. BARRETT: You know, this whole business is not going to be finished by fighting. It's going to be sorted out by people talking and coming up with some sort of solution. This offers an opportunity to talk to somebody extremely senior and influential.

KELLY: Indeed Baradar's capture could be of almost unlimited intelligence value, says Hank Crumpton, a career CIA officer who led the Agency's Afghan campaign after 9/11. And Crumpton sees an opportunity here to learn more not just about the Afghan Taliban, but all the groups the U.S. and its allies are fighting in the region.

Mr. HANK CRUMPTON (Former CIA Officer): I think you would have insight particularly into al-Qaida.

KELLY: Particularly into al-Qaida as opposed to some of the other groups.

Mr. CRUMPTON: Yes, just because of the alliances that they have. Al-Qaida depends on the Taliban to provide them safe haven.

KELLY: It's not clear why Baradar was arrested now after so many years in hiding. Hank Crumpton believes it may be thanks to a confluence of three developments: the U.S. military surge on the Afghan side of the border, stepped up CIA drone attacks on the Pakistani side and stepped up efforts by the Pakistanis to take on extremists within their cities. CIA veteran Crumpton argues it all bodes well for future U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.

Mr. CRUMPTON: Anytime you have a joint success, that always reinforces the trust, deepens the partnership and I think will lead to even bigger and better operations.

KELLY: Still, the U.S. counterterrorism official offers a caution. No one, he says, should think the Taliban are down and out for good.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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Top Taliban Commander Caught In Pakistan

An Urdu-language newspaper reports the capture of a Taliban commander in Karachi, Pakistan. i i

A man at a newsstand in Karachi, Pakistan, reads an Urdu-language evening newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander. Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images
An Urdu-language newspaper reports the capture of a Taliban commander in Karachi, Pakistan.

A man at a newsstand in Karachi, Pakistan, reads an Urdu-language evening newspaper reporting the capture of a top Taliban commander.

Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images

The Taliban's top military commander has been captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi and is under interrogation — a major victory against the insurgents battling U.S. troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was carried out jointly by the CIA and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, officials said Tuesday.

Baradar, the most senior Afghan Taliban leader arrested since the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began in 2001, is considered second only to founder Mullah Mohammad Omar in the Taliban hierarchy. He is also believed to be a close associate of Osama bin Laden's.

One Pakistani officer said Baradar was arrested 10 days ago in the seaport city and "was talking" to his interrogators.

NPR's Julie McCarthy says Baradar is a potential "treasure-trove" of information about the Afghan Taliban. She says authorities have been questioning him for days and that he has been asked, among other things, about the whereabouts of bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

Baradar's capture is a significant success for the Obama administration, which has vowed to kill or seize Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also signals a new level of cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan, which has been accused of allowing the Afghan Taliban to operate with impunity. Baradar's capture follows an increase in attacks by U.S. Predator drones that have reportedly killed many midlevel Taliban commanders.

A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan said 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 Associated Press by telephone. He said the report was Western propaganda aimed at undercutting the Taliban as they try to repel a NATO offensive in the stronghold of Marjah in southern Afghanistan.

Baradar was the deputy defense minister in the Taliban regime that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted eight years ago. He was appointed to the No. 2 position in the insurgency after the death of military chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani in 2006. Baradar is known to coordinate the group's military operations throughout the south and southwest of Afghanistan, and his area of direct responsibility stretches over Kandahar, Helmand, Nimroz, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.

There was also speculation that the arrest could be related in some way to a new push by the United States and its NATO allies to negotiate with moderate Afghan Taliban leaders as a way to end the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan has an important role in that process because of its close links with members of the movement, which it supported before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and has been increasingly cited as a possible hiding place for top Afghan Taliban commanders in recent months. It has a large population of Pashtuns, the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban, but it is on the Arabian Sea and far from the Afghan border.

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 in the NATO offensive to reclaim the town.

After denying for years that Afghan Taliban were based in the country, the Pakistani government and security agencies had little reason to publicize the arrest of Baradar, which was first reported by The New York Times.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said authorities had arrested a "number of people who are running away from Afghanistan and coming to Pakistan," but he would not confirm the Baradar's capture.

The Times said it learned of the CIA-Pakistani operation last Thursday but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials who said 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 that the arrest was becoming widely known in the region.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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