The Afghan Taliban’s second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was captured last week in Karachi during a joint operation by Pakistan’s intelligence service and the CIA, according to U.S. and Pakistani sources.
Deputy to Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, Baradar has been considered by many to be in de facto control of the insurgent organization in recent years. His capture is by far the most important detention since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the first known capture of a top-ranking insurgent during the Obama administration.
…The former deputy defense minister in the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Baradar has gradually taken control of the Taliban leadership council based in Quetta, Pakistan. “He makes the Taliban run,” said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation and Taliban expert who recently returned from an advisory position with the U.S. military command in Afghanistan.
I’m sure we’ll hear more about it over time, but that’s a very big break, operationally, informationally and symbolically. One “tell” as to the symbolic impact, from the New York Times:
“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.””
Uh, not really. As to how he’s being handled, the Times reports:
“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.”
The assault on Marja also seems to be progressing well. Half of the estimated 400 Taliban fighters in the area have been taken out of the fight, having fled or been killed. U.S. officials say it won’t be long until the rest meet a similar fate.
Among the Taliban fighters still in Marja, American and Afghan officials said, morale appears to be eroding fast, in part because the holdouts feel abandoned by their leaders and by local Afghans who are refusing to shelter them.
“They cannot feed themselves, they cannot sustain themselves — that is what we are hearing,” Col. Scott Hartsell told a group of senior officers at a briefing near Marja that included Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces; and Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan minister of defense. “They are calling for help, and they are not getting any.”
“Pretty soon, they are going to run out of gas,” Colonel Hartsell said.