"Rare intelligence break" led to Taliban chief's capture

Actually bad news, since it suggests more a stroke of luck than some sea change in Pakistani behavior.

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the capture of Baradar was driven by a rare intelligence break that enabled American spy agencies to pinpoint the Taliban military chief and help Pakistan’s intelligence service organize on short notice a daring operation to arrest him.

Officials in Washington said the capture spotlights a heightened level of cooperation that the United States has pursued aggressively in recent years through a campaign of diplomatic and military pressure. The effort involved a nearly constant stream of often secret visits by top U.S. officials, as well as more unconventional inducements. Twice over the last six months, CIA Predator drones have been used to kill the leaders of the Pakistani Taliban faction responsible for attacks in Pakistan.

But as for the arrest of Baradar, one U.S. official said: “It’s not just a matter of their motivation; it’s a matter of opportunity that we present. I don’t think it’s fair to say they decided they wanted to help us all of a sudden. We don’t get great opportunities at these guys all the time.”


A Pakistani expert on the Taliban tells WaPo he suspects Baradar’s whereabouts were “extremely well known” to ISI for a long time, which echoes Hillary’s impolitic but accurate point last year that Pakistan could go in and get Al Qaeda’s bigwigs whenever it liked. But what about that “rare intelligence break”? What’s that all about? Rusty Shackleford e-mailed last night to remind me that Newsweek had a scoop this past weekend that seemed minor-ish at the time — but maybe not so much anymore:

In late January, an Al Qaeda operative headed from Pakistan on his way to Yemen was arrested in the Persian Gulf country of Oman, a U.S. counter-terrorism official confirmed…

There has been no public announcement of the arrest. But in a possible indication of the operative’s importance, just a few days later, two postings on a jihadi web forum suggested that Al Qaeda leaders were worried and wanted their “commanders” to take immediate precautions…

Even more noteworthy, the postings -written by a fellow Al Qaeda “brother” – reported that Al Eidan had with him 300 “important phone numbers” as well as pictures, names and documents from Afghanistan…

It is difficult to assess at this stage how significant the arrest of the Al Qaeda operative may be. But Evan Kohlmann, a counter-terrorism specialist who provides analysis for U.S. government agencies and who first spotted the web postings, told Declassified: “These kind of grabs are not all that common.” “The idea that he would have personnel files on such a large cross section of Al Qaeda fighters is a remarkable gain,” said Kohlmann.


Baradar was a Taliban chief, not AQ, but given his importance in Afghanistan it may well be that Al Qaeda was in contact with him for purposes of coordination. If his (or his aides’) cell numbers were among those uncovered, U.S. intel might have been able to use them to track him to a location in Karachi and then confront Pakistan with the sort of “unconventional inducements” I speculated about last night.

One lingering question: The CIA’s actually stepped up its drone attacks in the tribal areas lately, striking three times in the last four days alone. But according to news reports at the time, that jihadi double-agent suicide bombing at the CIA’s base in Afghanistan just before New Year’s was supposed to be a crippling blow because it wiped out most of the unit responsible for locating Taliban and AQ targets. How’d they get back up to speed so quickly in the wake of that attack?

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