The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - The Taliban's top military commander has been captured in Pakistan in a joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces, The New York Times reports.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been in Pakistan's custody for several days, the newspaper reported on its Web site late yesterday, quoting U.S. government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Baradar was captured in Karachi in a raid by Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, with CIA operatives accompanying the Pakistanis, the Times reported. Pakistan has been leading the interrogation of Baradar, but Americans were also involved, it said.
The Times described Baradar as the No. 2 behind Taliban founder and Osama bin Laden associate Mullah Muhammad Omar. Baradar has been running the battlefield command for the Taliban since the 2006 death of military chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani.
The Times said it learned of the operation Thursday but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials who argued that publicizing it would end a valuable intelligence-gathering effort by making Baradar's associates aware of his capture. The newspaper said it decided to publish the news after White House officials acknowledged Baradar's capture was becoming widely known in the region.
Word of Baradar's capture came as U.S. Marine and Afghan units pressed deeper into the Taliban haven of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, facing sporadic rocket and mortar fire as they moved through suspected insurgent neighborhoods on the third day of a NATO offensive to reclaim the town.
Taliban fighters stepped up counterattacks, slowing the allied advance to a crawl despite Afghan government claims that the insurgents are broken and on the run. The Taliban appeared to be slipping under cover of darkness into compounds already deemed free of weapons and explosives, then opening fire on the Marines from behind U.S. lines.
Two NATO service members died Monday from bomb strikes in Helmand, but neither was part of the Marjah offensive, military spokesman Sgt. Kevin Bell said.
Also Monday, NATO said five civilians were accidentally killed and two wounded by an airstrike when they were mistakenly believed to have been planting roadside bombs in Kandahar province, east of the Marjah offensive.
Twelve people, half of them children, were killed Sunday by two U.S. missiles that struck a house on the outskirts of Marjah. Afghan officials said three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.