Taliban’s Top Military Commander Captured by U.S./Pakistani Forces…What it Means
In a dramatic turn of events in the Afghan War, the New York Times is reporting late this evening that the Taliban’s top military commander- Mullah Baradar- is now under U.S. and Pakistani custody. At the same time a joint U.S./NATO offensive in Southern Afghanistan is meeting stiff resistance, the Taliban’s most important political figure next to Mullah Omar is now under the control of Pakistani authorities.
Details are still sketchy at the moment. The story broke just hours ago, and to my knowledge, it took a solid two hours for mainstream media outlets to grasp onto the story (the New York Times and a blog on ForeignPolicy.com were the first to report). But from what the NYT is telling us at the moment, it appears that Mullah Baradar was captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi; a large metro area sprawling with western-styled architecture and a booming tourist business. Aided by the work of the Inter Services intelligence Agency- Pakistani’s equivalent of the CIA- American forces were able to collect and analyze enough intelligence to lead directly to the No. 2 man.
There are a few things that are worth nothing here. First off, the fact that Pakistan’s ISI took the lead in this operation may demonstrate a new and improved shift in U.S-Pakistani relations. Ever since the Taliban Movement was formed in the mid-1990’s, the ISI supported Mullah Omar’s followers with millions of dollars in cash, thousands of weapons, and logistical support that could only be obtained by a well-funded intel agency. When the Taliban captured the city of Kabul in 1996, Pakistan was only one of three countries that formerly recognized the movement as the legitimate government of Afghanistan (Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the other two).
And of course, a discussion of the ISI-Taliban connection would be mute without mentioning the former’s repeated reluctance to put a dent in the Islamic organization. Up to today’s news story, the Pakistani Army’s stated policy was to go after militants who were threatening the existence of the Pakistani state while permitting the Afghan Taliban to fight another day.
Now with the arrest of Mullah Baradar, perhaps the Pakistani Government is finally starting to change this course. The New York Times seems to think so:
“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.”
From a tactical standpoint, the detention of the Taliban’s No. 2 is a great opportunity for the United States to finally revamp their efforts to track down and capture (or kill) Mullah Omar, the man responsible for hosting, pampering, and sponsoring Osama bin-Laden and his Al’Qaeda cohorts. And while this is still an arduous task, the Baradar arrest is the best possible breakthrough the U.S. could have hoped for. Baradar is in frequent contact with Omar in the field, and his stature as the second in command provides him with a detailed and in-depth understanding of Omar’s behavior and perseverance. It is precisely this type of information that is required if a government wants to reignite a frustrating and long-winded cold-case.
A much deserving bright spot for the international counterterror campaign.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of the Economist**