U.S., Pakistan confirm arrest of Taliban commander

U.S., Pakistan confirm arrest of Taliban commander
# 17 February 2010 19:18 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The Pakistani military and a senior U.S. diplomat confirmed on Wednesday that the Afghan Taliban’s top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, had been captured, APA reports quoting Reuters.
U.S. and Pakistani officials who declined to be identified said on Tuesday Baradar had been captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in a raid by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
"At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar," the military said.
U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke also confirmed the arrest but declined to give details.
"It is a significant development," he told reporters in Kabul. "We commend the Pakistanis for their role in this and it is part of a deepening cooperation between us."
The capture came as U.S. forces spearheaded one of NATO’s biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan in an early test of U.S. President Barack Obama’s troop surge policy.
U.S. officials and analysts said it was too soon to tell whether Pakistan’s cooperation against Baradar would be extended to other top militants on the U.S. hit list.
The arrest followed months of behind-the-scenes prodding by U.S. officials who saw inaction by Islamabad as a major threat to their Afghan war strategy.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had on Tuesday declined to confirm Baradar’s capture, saying a large number of people had fled operations by NATO forces in Afghanistan to Pakistan and many had been picked up.
He denied that there had been any joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
Though nuclear-armed Pakistan is a U.S. ally, anti-U.S. sentiment runs high and many people have long been suspicious of the U.S.-led campaign against militancy and oppose any U.S. security operations in Pakistan.
A Pakistani intelligence official said security agents had been searching for Baradar in the southwestern city of Quetta, where the United States says a Taliban leadership council is based.
"Sensing that he might be arrested, he somehow slipped out of Quetta and into Karachi, maybe in disguise. That’s where we arrested him, about four days back," said the official, who declined to be identified.
"He is with us and is being interrogated."
Asked if the United States was involved in the questioning, he said: "Yes of course. We have that sort of cooperation with them."
Baradar was arrested amid a renewed drive for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
Asked if the Taliban commander could help with any reconciliation process, the Pakistani agent said: "It might lead to that eventually ... Anything is possible but so far we have not come to that."
Pakistan is anxious to have a say in post-war Afghanistan in order to limit the influence of old rival India there.
Separately, police in Karachi arrested a suspected Pakistani Taliban commander on Wednesday.
Police official Omar Shahid said the suspect, who he identified as Abdullah, also known as Abu Waqas, was a commander from the Bajaur region on the Afghan border, adding he had told interrogators he had recruited numerous girls as suicide bombers.
In another incident, unknown gunmen ambushed a vehicle carrying militants in the Kurrum region on the border, killing six Taliban and wounding two, officials said.
Earlier on Wednesday, a U.S. drone fired a missile into the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, killing at least three militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The drone targeted a militant compound in the village of Tapi, about 15 km (9 miles) east of Miranshah, the main town in the region, a hotbed of Taliban and al Qaeda militants. It was the second attack on the village this week.
There was no information about the identity of those killed or of three men wounded in the strike, they said.
Pakistan objects to the drone strikes, saying they are a violation of its sovereignty and complicate its efforts against militancy.
The Pakistani army has made gains against militants battling the state over the past 10 months but it has ruled out a major offensive against Afghan Taliban factions on its soil, saying its forces are already stretched.
The United States has carried out 14 drone strikes in Pakistan this year, according to a Reuters tally, compared with 51 last year and 32 in 2008.
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