ISLAMABAD – Pakistan's military on Wednesday confirmed the arrest of the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 leader, a potentially major blow to the militant movement just as newly bolstered U.S. troops wage a major offensive in Afghanistan's south.
U.S. and Pakistani officials said on condition of anonymity Tuesday that Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested around 10 days ago in a joint operation by CIA and Pakistani security forces in the southern port city of Karachi. The army statement Wednesday was the first public confirmation of the arrest.
"At the conclusion of detailed identification procedures, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar," chief army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in a written message to reporters. "The place of arrest and operational details cannot be released due to security reasons."
Baradar was the second in command behind Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and was said to be in charge of the day-to-day running of the organization's leadership council, which is believed based in Pakistan. He was a founding member of the Taliban and is the most important figure of the hardline Islamist movement to be arrested since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The White House has declined to confirm Baradar's capture. Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters the fight against extremists involves sensitive intelligence matters and he believes it's best to collect that information without talking about it.
Baradar, who also functioned as the link between Mullah Omar and field commanders, has been in detention for more than 10 days and was talking to interrogators, two Pakistani intelligence officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
One said Baradar had provided "useful information" to them and that Pakistan had shared it with their U.S. counterparts. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Baradar's arrest suggests the powerful Pakistani intelligence services are ready to deny Afghan militant leaders a safe haven in Pakistan — something critics have long accused them of doing.
The arrest may also push other insurgent leaders thought to be sheltering in Pakistan toward reconciliation talks with the Afghan government — a development increasingly seen as key to ending the eight-year war.
The arrest came shortly before U.S., Afghan and NATO troops launched a major offensive against militants in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in the southern province of Helmand, one of the regions that Baradar was believed to control. It is the largest operation in Afghanistan since President Barack Obama ordered a "surge" of 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
Washington has pressed Islamabad to crack down on Afghan Taliban believed to be staying in Pakistan, and to go after Pakistani Taliban groups who have strongholds in the country's northwest regions bordering Afghanistan. The CIA also has stepped up a campaign of missile strikes from unmanned planes that have killed dozens of suspected militants in recent months.
The latest strike came Wednesday, when a suspected U.S. drone aircraft fired two missiles at a home in the northwestern village of Tabbi Tool Khel in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing at least three people and wounding some others, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.