Third time the charm for Mullah Naqibullah?

Afghanistan announced the capture of a Taliban leader in Helmand province today, an announcement that they could recycle from two previous captures. Mullah Naqibullah, who the Afghan government thought they killed in an engagement last month, was captured after an ill-advised attack. But capturing Naqibullah isn’t the real trick — it’s keeping him that presents the challenge:

Afghan police say they have arrested top Taleban commander Mullah Naqibullah in the southern province of Helmand.

Chief of police in Helmand Mohd Husain Andewal said the rebel leader was injured and arrested after insurgents attacked the police in Lashkar Gah. ….

Mullah Naqibullah is a Pashtun rebel commander who has twice escaped from prison.

Naqibullah not only has a habit of slipping out of custody, but of being slippery in his associations. Naqibullah has been on different sides of the Afghan conflict over the years, although he has been loyal to the Taliban since 2001, when the US forced them out of the country and into Pakistan. He has led troops in combat since the Russian occupation and has risen to the highest ranks of the Taliban.

His two previous escapes from custody undoubtedly enhanced his reputation. The Afghans and NATO would do well to keep him in more secure conditions on their third dance with Naqibullah, and perhaps get better intel from him as well. They had the opportunity in 2004 when they first arrested him and again in 2005, but apparently he was smarter and quicker than his captors. Let’s hope we’ve learned something from the failures.