Monday, February 15, 2010

Top Taliban commander captured (UPDATED)

The New York Times is reporting that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the most senior Taliban official after Mullah Omar, has been captured in a joint U.S.-Pakistani intelligence operation. (h/t Leah Farrall on Twitter)
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 C.I.A. veteran 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.
This is undeniably good news, particularly in light of what looks like extensive cooperation from Pakistan. I'm not sure I'm ready to say that the ISI has turned the page here, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. In related news, for the first time ever, Michael Cohen is more optimistic about Afghanistan than me.
Not only is this enormous as far as the US war in Afghanistan, but it suggests for perhaps the first time that the Pakistan government is willing to cooperate with the US in going after the Afghan Taliban. One can only imagine the impact on Taliban feelings of security and reliance on Pakistani support: that safe haven ain't feeling so safe anymore. One has to think this will affect the drive toward political reconciliation in a dramatic way - because if you're the Taliban this news suggests that time is no longer necessarily on your side.

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say this may be the most important to thing to happen to the US war in Afghanistan - as Leah Farrell suggests this might be the more significant US capture since 9/11. This has the potential to change the entire complexion of the war in Afghanistan - and for the better. For the first time in a very long time, there is reason for optimism.
Let's cross our fingers that he's right. I don't see how it changes a lot of foundational dynamics of the war (including the cost-benefit analysis that underlies American involvement in Afghanistan), but if we're gonna be there, we may as well be shutting down the bad guys.

UPDATE: Here's a good backgrounder on Baradar from Newsweek last summer.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure, either, that anyone has turned the page. In fact, my skeptical self says NO NO NO!

    By that I mean that lots of money has been spent, and lots of high profile meetings have taken place, and oh yeah, there are lots of troops the other side of the border. It's not a natural "giving up" of anything or anybody. If such a process could ever be called natural....

    Why do the India and Pakistan articles seem to get the fewest comments here, and at other sites such as SWJ? Why the lack of curiosity, if that indeed is what it is?