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Latest update : 2010-02-16

The Taliban have denied US media reports that a top commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been detained in a joint US-Pakistani raid. If confirmed, Baradar's capture would be one of the most significant since the start of the Afghan war.

AFP- US and Pakistani spies have captured the Taliban's top military commander, US media reported, but the militia Tuesday denied his arrest and said he was still leading the fight in Afghanistan.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was arrested in Pakistan's sprawling port city of Karachi "several days ago" by US and Pakistani intelligence services, the New York Times and US media said, citing unnamed US government officials.

If confirmed, the arrest would be a huge blow for the Taliban, which have been fighting to bring down the Afghan government and evict Western troops since the 2001 US-led invasion removed them from power for sheltering Al-Qaeda.

The report emerged as 15,000 US, NATO and Afghan troops press on with a major

assault to capture the Taliban bastion of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, key to Washington's new strategy for turning around the costly war.

The New York Times billed Afghan-born Baradar as top lieutenant to the Taliban's one-eyed and elusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and said he was currently being interrogated by Pakistani and US officials.

But the Taliban denied Baradar's capture, and accused US officials of trying to deflect attention from "serious resistance" put up by Taliban fighters as the Marjah offensive entered a fourth day.

"We strongly reject the reports of his arrest," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"He is currently in Afghanistan, where he is leading all jihadi activities... The sole goal of such baseless reporting and propaganda is to make up for the failure in Marjah."

Officials from Pakistan's military and the government were not immediately available for comment on the reports. Senior police officials in Karachi said they had no information.

"We are unaware of any such operation. We do not know that any such arrest has been made," one police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Baradar is in charge of the Taliban's military operations and leadership council, and was a close associate of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, the New York Times said.

It quoted US officials saying they hoped his capture will lead them to other senior Taliban officials.

The details of Baradar's capture were not clear, but the New York Times said it was carried out by Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives.

US television channel ABC also cited a senior official as saying Baradar was captured several days ago and calling it "a very big deal".

"If he were taken off the battlefield, it would deal a major setback to the Afghan Taliban and be a personal blow to Mullah Omar, who has relied heavily on him for years," an unnamed counter-terrorism official told the station.

An Interpol profile said 42-year-old Baradar was a senior Taliban military commander, subject to tough UN sanctions and gave his location as the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Many Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants seek sanctuary in the rugged and semi-autonomous tribal belt in northwest Pakistan, and Washington has been pressing Islamabad to do more to dismantle the extremist sanctuaries.

The Afghan Taliban shadow government is widely reported by Western officials to have its headquarters in Quetta city, the capital of Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan province.

Baradar is said to be second-in-command of the so-called Quetta Shura -- although Pakistani officials have denied a Taliban presence in the city.

Reports of Baradar's capture come as the US military reports slow progress in the ground and air offensive against opium-rich Marjah in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, a Taliban stronghold.

The assault is the first major test of US President Barack Obama's strategy to crush the eight-year Taliban insurgency and one of the biggest since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime.

Date created : 2010-02-16


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