Page last updated at 14:58 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Taliban commander Mullah Baradar 'seized in Pakistan'

Map showing Nooriabad

A man described as the top Afghan Taliban military commander and named as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been captured in Pakistan, US officials say.

He was seized in a morning raid on a madrassa near Karachi by Pakistan's ISI intelligence service on 8 February, a security source told the BBC.

The government has yet to confirm the arrest; the Taliban have denied it.

The capture comes amid a major Nato-led offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

While the raid on Madarassa Khuddamul Quran - near the Nooriabad Industrial Estate some 45km (28 miles) from Karachi - was led by the ISI, it is not clear at the moment whether US officials were involved.

Correspondents say Mullah Baradar is reported to be in charge of all long-term strategic military planning for the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and, if confirmed, his arrest will have a very big effect on the Taliban's ability to conduct the insurgency there.

Orla Guerin
Orla Guerin, BBC News, Islamabad

A senior Pakistani military official says this was a joint US-Pakistani operation that was based on shared intelligence.

This suggests Pakistan is getting tough with Afghan Taliban leaders sheltering here - something that has long been a demand of the White House.

The arrest may also be linked to attempts to get the Taliban into talks with the Afghan government and coalition forces.

Mullah Baradar is believed to favour negotiations. There's some speculation here that his detention could be a bid to open channels of communication.

It may also be an attempt by Pakistan to influence any future talks.

Senior US officials said Mullah Baradar was "providing intelligence".

"This operation was an enormous success," one official told ABC News.

"It is a very big deal," the official said.

The New York Times, citing US government sources, said the prisoner was the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the US-led war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

But a Taliban spokesman denied the reports, saying Mullah Baradar was still in Afghanistan actively organising the group's military and political activities.

"He has not been captured. They want to spread this rumour just to divert the attention of people from their defeats in Marjah and confuse the public," Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters news agency, referring to the US-led Nato offensive in the Marjah area of Helmand province.

Guerrilla tactics

Little is known about Mullah Baradar, but in terms of influence he is said to rank second only to the Taliban's spiritual leader, Mullar Muhammad Omar, who has been hiding from Western agencies since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.

Second-in-charge behind Taliban founder Mullah Omar
In charge of Taliban's military operations and financial affairs
Born in Dehrawood district, Uruzgan province, in 1968
Former deputy defence minister for the Taliban regime
Source: Interpol, news agencies

Senior intelligence officials voiced hope he would provide the location of Mullah Omar.

The BBC's North America editor Mark Mardell, in Washington, says Mullah Baradar is a "big fish" who runs the Taliban's day-to-day operations, both military and financial.

He allocates Taliban funds, appoints military commanders and designs military tactics, our correspondent says.

Mullah Baradar was quoted last year as telling his troops not to confront US soldiers with their superior firepower, but to adopt guerrilla tactics.

He is said to be responsible for the Taliban tactic of planting "flowers" - improvised explosive devices (IEDs) - along roadsides.

The New York Times, citing officials, said the Karachi raid was conducted by Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and CIA operatives.

The newspaper said it had learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it after a request by White House officials. They said disclosing it would end a very successful intelligence drive.

US officials later acknowledged the news, saying it was becoming broadly known in the region.

According to Interpol, Mullah Baradar was born in 1968 and served as deputy minister of defence for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before it was toppled in 2001.

He has been subject to UN sanctions including a travel ban, an arms embargo and the freezing of assets.

Mullah Baradar was reported to have engaged in an e-mail exchange with Newsweek magazine in July 2009, in which he vowed to "inflict maximum losses" on US forces in Afghanistan.

"In every nook and corner of the country, a spirit for jihad is raging," the magazine quoted him as saying.

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