|Mullah Baradar, Afghan Taliban No. 2 Captured
||By NICK SCHIFRIN and JAKE TAPPER
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The Afghan Taliban's deputy leader was captured about a week ago in the Pakistani city of Karachi in a joint Pakistani-American operation and is now cooperating with authorities and providing intelligence, according to Pakistani officials and a senior American official.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was detained using Pakistani information, a Pakistani intelligence official says.
"This operation was an enormous success," the American official said. "It is a very big deal."
Baradar is second only to Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, who U.S. officials also believe is hiding in Pakistan. But Baradar has essentially been running the Afghan Taliban, responsible for the day-to-day military operations and for being Omar's consigliore. The story of his capture was first reported by The New York Times.
He is by far the most senior Taliban leader detained since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and his capture marks an important step in Pakistan's cooperation with the United States to hunt Afghan Taliban who use Pakistan as a safe haven to launch attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Senior Pakistani military officials have long denied American claims that they were turning a blind eye to Afghan Taliban militants inside their country, and the raid is one of the most significant steps Pakistan has ever taken to capture senior Afghan militants.
U.S. Official: Barader Capture 'Major Setback' for Afghan Taliban
A U.S. counterterrorism official, while refusing to confirm the news of Baradar's capture, told ABC News that "if he were taken off the battlefield, it would deal a major setback to the Afghan Taliban and be a personal blow to Mullah Omar, who has relied heavily on him for years."
His importance was highlighted by Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban regime's foreign minister, in a Newsweek interview last summer. "Mullah Omar has put Baradar in charge," he said. "It is Mullah Omar's idea and his policy to stay quiet in a safe place, because he has a high price on his head, while Baradar leads."
The Afghan Taliban is denying that Baradar has been captured, saying he was still helping lead military activities across Afghanistan, including in Marjah, Helmand, where U.S. marines are leading one of the largest military campaigns against the Taliban since the war began.
"If it happened I would have known about it, and I haven't heard anything, so it must not be true," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told ABC News.
A member of the Pakistani Taliban in Karachi also denied any knowledge of Baradar's capture.
|Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban’s Top Commander
||The New York Times
||MARK MAZZETTI and DEXTER FILKINS
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 group’s spiritual leader.
Disclosure of Mullah Baradar’s capture came as American and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.
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.
The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.
The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.
Several American government officials gave details about the raid on the condition that they not be named, because the operation was classified.
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.
A spokesman for the Taliban insisted on Tuesday that Baradar was still free.
“This is just rumor spread by foreigners to divert attention from the Marja offensive,” said the spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid.
“They are facing big problems in Marja. In reality there is nothing regarding Baradar’s arrest. He is safe and free and he is in Afghanistan.”
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.
The ability of the Taliban’s top leaders to operate relatively freely inside Pakistan has for years been a source of friction between the ISI and the C.I.A. Americans have complained that they have given ISI operatives the precise locations of Taliban leaders, but that the Pakistanis usually refuse to act.
The Pakistanis have countered that the American intelligence was often outdated, or that faulty information had been fed to the United States by Afghanistan’s intelligence service.
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.
Mr. Riedel, the former C.I.A. official, said that he had not heard about Mullah Baradar’s capture before being contacted by The Times, but that the raid constituted a “sea change in Pakistani behavior.”
In recent weeks, American officials have said they have seen indications that the Pakistani military and spy services may finally have begun to distance themselves from the Taliban. One Obama administration official said Monday that the White House had “no reason to think that anybody was double-dealing at all” in aiding in the capture of Mullah Baradar.
A parade of American officials traveling to the Pakistani capital have made the case that the Afghan Taliban are now aligned with groups — like the Pakistani Taliban — that threaten the stability of the Pakistani government.
Mullah Baradar oversees the group’s 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.
Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington, and Dexter Filkins from Kabul, Afghanistan. Carlotta Gall contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
| Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar: Are other Taliban leaders hiding in Karachi?
|| The Christian Science Monitor
Karachi, Pakistan — Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Omar and many Pakistani militants have been reported to be hiding in Karachi, where the Afghan insurgency’s No. 2 was captured last week.
The arrest of a senior Afghan Taliban commander in Karachi, made last week and revealed on Tuesday, adds to growing reports that militants are using the Pakistani city as an organizational hub and safe haven.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, was apprehended in a joint raid by Pakistani and American intelligence agencies, though a Taliban spokesman denied this.
Home to top Taliban members?
In recent months, local and international media have reported that Taliban commanders fleeing military operations in Afghanistan and in Pakistani tribal areas have relocated to Karachi, which is the country’s largest city and has largely avoided the bomb attacks that have struck the northwest and other major cities.
Karachi also has a large population of Pashtuns, the ethnic group to which most members of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban belong. Though the city’s ruling party takes a tough line against the Taliban, militants are able to conceal their activities within the city’s sprawling slums.
In recent months, US intelligence officials quoted by the Washington Times and a diplomat based in Kabul have said that Mullah Omar himself was hiding in Karachi, but the Pakistani government denied this.
Earlier this month, Taliban sources told the Los Angeles Times that Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who had been injured in a US drone strike in January, died en route to Karachi for medical treatment. Uncertainty still swirls around Mr. Mehsud, however. US and Pakistani officials have said they believe Mr. Mehsud is dead, but Taliban sources say he's still alive.
A network of militants
According to a police investigator with the Special Investigation Unit, tasked with counterterrorism operations, not only leaders but also other militants are present in Karachi.
“There is a network of [Pakistani] Taliban fighters scattered across the city,” the SIU officer says, speaking on the condition of anonymity. He estimates that about 150 Taliban militants from the tribal region reside in Karachi. They include recruiters and financiers, who coordinate with local criminal gangs and sectarian groups to smuggle arms to the tribal areas and arrange funding, he says.
Some Taliban members also visit Karachi to recruit locals for an attack or theft, the officer continues. “The Taliban here are like fixers. When they’re planning an attack or robbery [in Karachi] men are brought in from the tribal areas” to carry it out.”
A few dozen suspected militants currently sit in police custody awaiting trial in the Anti-Terrorism Court, he adds.
A place to raise funds
Since 2008, Pakistani police and intelligence agencies have claimed that the Taliban use Karachi, the country’s financial capital, to raise funds for militants based along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Last December, the main suspect in the largest bank heist in Pakistani history, which occurred in Karachi’s financial district, was found to have links to the Taliban. According to a recent statement from the Interior ministry, of the dozen bank robberies that occurred in Karachi in 2009, 80 percent could be traced back to individuals based in the tribal areas who were believed to have links with the Taliban.
Those responsible for the Nov. 26 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, reportedly left from Karachi and phoned a coordinator here during the assault.
|Profile: Mullal Baradar - father of the roadside IED
|| Zahid Hussain
Regarded as brilliant and charismatic Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was the second most powerful figure in the Afghanistan Taleban.
The military commander who is said to have developed the Taleban tactic of planting "flowers" - improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - along roadsides has been described by terrorism experts as even more cunning and dangerous than Taleban supreme leader (his old friend) Mullah Omar.
Mullah Badar has been credited for rebuilding the Taleban into an effective fighting force and has been running the group’s daily affairs for many years, since Mullah Omar was forced to take a less active role in the organisation due to his failing health.
Besides heading up Taleban military operations and running its budgets, he also ran the group’s leadership council, known as the Quetta Shura, named because its leaders have been thought to be hiding near Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s western province of Baluchistan. A photograph of him has yet to surface.
Born in 1968 in Weetmak, a village in Afghanistan’s Oruzgan Province, the young Mullah Baradar participated in the Afghan Mujahedeen war against the Soviet forces.
It was during this war that he came to know Mullah Omar; the pair fought alongside each other against the Communist forces and some reports suggest the two even married a pair of sisters.
After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces and collapse of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992 , Mullah Baradar and Mullah Omar both settled down in southern Afghanistan district of Maiwand where they ran their own madrassa.
When Mullah Omar started a revolt against the local warlords in 1994 with a force of some 30 men, Mullah Baradar was among its first recruits. This was the beginning the Taleban movement which swept Kabul in 1996, establishing a hard line conservative regime.
Mullah Baradar became Mullah Omar’s most trusted military commander. He first served as Taleban corps commander for western Afghanistan, and later as the Kabul garrison commander, where he directed the fight against rival mujahedin commanders in the north of the country.
He was at the side of Mullah Omar when U.S. bombs pounded Kandahar in November 2001. According to some reports it was Mullah Baradar who hopped on a motorcycle and drove his old friend to safety in the mountains.
Many terrorism experts described Mullah Bradar as the most skilled military leader who spearheaded the fighting in southern Afghanistan. His forces were responsible for inflicting heavy casualties on the Western forces last year.
He conducted the Taleban's day-to-day operations, both military and financial. He allocated Taleban funds, appoints military commanders and designs military tactics,
Mullah Baradar was quoted last year as telling his fighters to not to confront US soldiers with their superior firepower, but to operate using guerrilla tactics.
Mullah Baradar was believed to have often travelled to Karachi to meet other members of the Quetta Shura who had moved to the port in recent months.
The sprawling city on the Arabia sea coast with a population of more than 16 million has become a haven for the Taleban leadership.
| How significant is Mullah Baradar's arrest?
||M Ilyas Khan
Islamabad: The capture of top Taliban militant commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in the Pakistani city of Karachi is the most important catch for the American CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service since March 2007.
Back then, operatives of the two intelligence services collaborated to arrest Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a former Taliban defence minister and a close aide of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Both Mullah Obaidullah and Mullah Baradar held supervisory positions in the 10-member leadership council which Mullah Omar set up in 2003 before going into hiding.
All major Taliban commanders in southern and eastern Afghanistan were asked to directly report to that council.
But following Mullah Obaidullah's arrest in the city of Quetta in 2007, Mullah Baradar emerged as the man in charge of the Taliban's insurgency in Afghanistan.
“ This may indicate a serious move towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio ”
Such was his dominance over the movement that there was even speculation that Mullah Baradar may have either killed or scared Mullah Omar into permanent hiding in order to minimise any challenge to his authority.
As such, his arrest is seen by analysts here as a crucial intelligence breakthrough for the Americans.
According to analysts, Mullah Baradar not only has first-hand knowledge of the nature and the extent of the Taliban network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he also knows details of their linkages with the Pakistani intelligence corps.
But will he talk? And how quickly can the Taliban shift positions to render his information obsolete?
These are difficult questions to answer.
We still don't know, for example, if Mullah Obaidullah conveyed any useful intelligence to his interrogators after his capture.
If anything, things in Afghanistan have grown worse since he was arrested more than two years ago.
Many in Pakistan believe Mullah Baradar's arrest has come at a bad time for Taliban, who were hoping to hold their ground against a major push by Nato forces as part of a strategy that would culminate in their ignominious exit from Afghanistan.
But some say the Taliban may yet regroup and deny the Americans a final victory.
Another aspect of Mullah Baradar's capture revolves around proposed talks which Western commanders and the Afghan government hope to initiate with Taliban leaders who are willing to work within the framework of the Afghan constitution.
Some quarters here indicate that the arrest may have been "orchestrated" by elements within the Pakistani establishment to facilitate back-channel talks with "willing" Taliban commanders.
This line of thinking presupposes a scenario in which the Pakistanis "brought in" Mullah Baradar under a pre-arranged pact with the CIA to pave the way for negotiations.
If true, this may indicate a serious move towards a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.
It may also mean a fundamental shift in Pakistani strategy - from promoting its own proxies in Afghanistan to seeking an arrangement that can have wider acceptance.
But if the arrest was purely the result of CIA intelligence-gathering, then it apparently leaves little room for the Pakistanis to do anything other than to tag along and satisfy the demand of the Americans for a joint operation.
In such a scenario, one can easily imagine the tensions it may have caused both within the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan and their Pakistani backers.
It may also prove highly embarrassing for the Pakistani government, which is extremely sensitive to allegations that it is Washington's poodle.
But at the moment there are more questions than answers surrounding this most murky of affairs.