Bombshell: CIA, Pakistani intel capture Taliban's number two; Update: Newsweek profile added

A coup not only on its own terms — this guy supposedly ran the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council, so it’s a major intelligence windfall — but in what it portends about Pakistan’s posture towards the Taliban.

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…

The participation of Pakistan’s spy service could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan’s leaders, who have been ambivalent about American efforts to crush the Taliban. Increasingly, the Americans say, senior leaders in Pakistan, including the chief of its army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, have gradually come around to the view that they can no longer support the Taliban in Afghanistan — as they have quietly done for years — without endangering themselves. Indeed, American officials have speculated that Pakistani security officials could have picked up Mullah Baradar long ago

Mr. Riedel, the former C.I.A. official, said that he had not heard about Mullah Baradar’s capture before being contacted by The Times, but that the raid constituted a “sea change in Pakistani behavior.”

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.

The Times claims it knew about this since Thursday but sat on the info at the feds’ request lest it tip off Taliban commanders in the field that they’d been compromised. I’ve always assumed that ISI can find these people within a few days if it really wanted to, so if the “sea change” is for real, expect plenty of other big Taliban captures in the weeks ahead, possibly including Mullah Omar himself (who’s also reputed to be in Karachi). What I don’t understand is what’s changed. Yeah, the U.S. military offensive in Marja is going well so far, but it isn’t the kind of juggernaut that would turn Pakistan’s leadership on its head. Did Obama buy them off somehow? Or did his build-up in Afghanistan convince them that the U.S. would have a presence there long enough that it wasn’t worth supporting the Taliban’s hopes to return to power?

In light of the base bombing just before New Year’s, this must be especially gratifying for the CIA. Hats off.

Update: Big, big, big fish. Consider the significance of this guy, then consider how far the ISI must be able to reach — when it wants to — to penetrate the Taliban and nab someone like him.

In more than two dozen interviews for this profile, past and present members of the Afghan insurgency portrayed Baradar as no mere stand-in for the reclusive Omar. They say Baradar appoints and fires the Taliban’s commanders and governors; presides over its top military council and central ruling Shura in Quetta, the city in southwestern Pakistan where most of the group’s senior leaders are based; and issues the group’s most important policy statements in his own name. It is key that he controls the Taliban’s treasury—hundreds of millions of dollars in -narcotics protection money, ransom payments, highway tolls, and “charitable donations,” largely from the Gulf. “He commands all military, political, religious, and financial power,” says Mullah Shah Wali Akhund, a guerrilla subcommander from Helmand province who met Baradar this March in Quetta for the fourth time. “Baradar has the makings of a brilliant commander,” says Prof. Thomas Johnson, a longtime expert on Afghanistan and an adviser to Coalition forces. “He’s able, charismatic, and knows the land and the people so much better than we can hope to do. He could prove a formidable foe.”…

Baradar can take much of the credit for rebuilding the Taliban into an effective fighting force. For at least the past three years, Mullah Omar has had little or no say in the group’s daily affairs. His most recent public pronouncement came last December, when two statements were issued in his name denying “baseless” reports of peace talks with the Afghan government and repeating his demand for the withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Some Taliban members speculate that Omar might be dead, although Baradar, his lifelong friend and comrade in arms, denies any such thing. “He is hale and healthy, and not only taking part in but currently leading the jihad,” he told NEWSWEEK. U.S. intelligence experts can’t testify to Omar’s health, but they believe he is alive. “Mullah Omar has put Baradar in charge,” says Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban regime’s foreign minister, who first met both men in 1992, during the last days of the Soviet-backed regime. “It is Mullah Omar’s idea and his policy to stay quiet in a safe place, because he has a high price on his head, while Baradar leads.”

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