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Page last updated at 08:41 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Afghan Taliban chiefs 'held in Pakistan'

Taliban fighters in Ghazni province, Afghanistan - 23 January 2010
Afghan Taliban are thought to take orders from chiefs hiding in Pakistan

Two senior members of the Afghan Taliban are reported to have been seized in Pakistan, media reports say.

Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mir Mohammad are thought to be respectively the "shadow governors" of the northern Afghan provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan.

But there are conflicting reports over exactly where in Pakistan they were apprehended.

On Thursday, Pakistan's army spokesman told the BBC that he was not aware of any such arrests.

The two men are reported to have been picked up about two weeks ago, unnamed Afghan and Pakistani officials have said.

But there is little clarity over the circumstances of the reported arrests.

Taliban spokesman have denied the reports and have accused Nato of spreading propaganda to undermine Taliban morale, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Coalition forces are continuing their assault for a seventh day against Taliban fighters entrenched in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

Confusion over arrests

If confirmed, correspondents say the arrests would be a further blow to the Taliban just days after the capture in Karachi of the Afghan Taliban's military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Mullah Abdul Salam is said to be the Taliban's chief commander for northern Afghanistan, where Kunduz province has emerged as a major Taliban stronghold over the last couple of years.

US marines with 1/3 marine Charlie Company kneel and pray before going on patrol in Trikh Nawar - 18 Feb 2010
Coalition forces are continuing their push in southern Afhganistan

"He was a tyrant. He was a cruel person. He strongly rejected the peace process," the governor of Afghanistan's Kunduz province, Mohammad Omar, is quoted by AP news agency as saying.

On Wednesday, Newsweek magazine reported that Mullah Abdul Salam had been arrested in Faisalabad city in Punjab province.

But Mr Omar told Reuters news agency on Thursday that both Mullah Abdul Salam and Mullah Mohammad Mir had been arrested in Pakistan's south-western Baluchistan province.

The New York Times says the two leaders were picked up from the town of Akora Khattak in the North West Frontier Province, the location of a major seminary, Darul Uloom Haqqania, where many senior Taliban leaders have studied.

On Wednesday the US has hailed the capture of Mullah Baradar as a "big success" for US-Pakistani co-operation.

A White House spokesman confirmed the capture for the first time, saying it was a significant development.

Pakistan had earlier confirmed the capture.

Mullah Baradar is said to have overseen Taliban military operations in Afghanistan, run the group's leadership council, and controlled its finances.



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