— A Pakistani man in Karachi reads news that top Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been arrested in a joint Pakistani-U.S. operation. Photo by Rizwan Tabassum/AFP/Getty Images.
In what may be the most significant capture since the start of the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s top military commander has been seized by American and Pakistani intelligence forces.
The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is deputy to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the one-eyed cleric who founded the Taliban and was a close associate to Osama bin Laden in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks. The CIA and Pakistan’s intelligence services captured him in Karachi, Pakistan, last week in a joint raid.
Baradar is now in Pakistani custody under interrogation by American and Pakistani officials. It is unclear whether he is talking, but according to the New York Times, which first reported his capture, it is hoped interrogations will yield information about the whereabouts of Omar.
While a Taliban spokesman has denied news of Baradar’s arrest, Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review, told the New York Times that his capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations. As Afghan expert Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation put it to the Washington Post, “He makes the Taliban run.”
The New York Times, which learned of the operation on Thursday, delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who said that making it public would end an intelligence-gathering effort. The Times published the report after White House officials acknowledged that the news was becoming widely known in the region.
In addition to leading the Taliban’s military operations, Baradar is also believed to head the group’s leadership council. According to the New York Times, he was thought to be open to negotiations with either the Afghan government or with Washington, however, in response to questions submitted last summer by Newsweek, Baradar ruled out the possibility of talks.
“Our basic problem with the Americans is that they have attacked our country,” Baradar said. “They are offering talks, hoping that the mujahedeen surrender before them. We see no benefit for the country and Islam in such kind of talks.”
In the same interview, Baradar said the Taliban aimed to “to inflict maximum losses on the Americans,” and that the group would continue its “jihad till the expulsion of our enemy from our land.”
The BBC describes Baradar’s capture as the most important catch for CIA and Pakistani intelligence services since March 2007, when the two collaborated to arrest Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a former Taliban defense minister and a close aide to Omar.
News of Baradar’s arrest comes just four days into a major offensive in the southwest Afghan town of Marjah. The BBC reported that U.S. forces faced sporadic firing Tuesday as they worked to establish a permanent security presence in the area. Yet in another setback for the allied offensive, a NATO airstrike in nearby Kandahar province killed five civilians. The bombing follows the deaths of 12 civilians in a missed airstrike on Sunday.
We’ll have more about the capture of Baradar and the ongoing offensive in Afghanistan here on The Rundown and on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour.