American troops have captured a senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban in a military operation, a US official said Friday, in what could prove a major blow to the Islamic militant group.
“I can confirm that US forces did capture… terrorist leader Latif Mehsud,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, describing him as a senior commander in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
She gave no details of the operation and did not say where or when his capture took place.
But the Washington Post reported that he had been seized recently in eastern Afghanistan, and was snatched away from Afghan intelligence operatives who had been trying to recruit him as a possible go-between for peace talks between Kabul, Islamabad and the Taliban.
News of Meshud’s capture came just as US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Kabul on a surprise visit for difficult talks about leaving a residual US force behind in Afghanistan after international forces withdraw in 2014.
President Hamid Karzai, with whom Kerry met on Friday, was reportedly livid about Mehsud’s capture.
“The Americans forcibly removed him and took him to Bagram,” a Karzai spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told the Post.
Mehsud had only agreed to meet with operatives of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security after months of conversations, he said.
Afghan authorities believed their contacts with Mehsud has been one of the most significant operations carried out by Afghan forces, who are gradually assuming sole control for the country’s security, Faizi told the Post.
Bagram air base is a military base that includes a detention facility where the United States continues to hold more than 60 foreign fighters among about 3,000 detainees.
“Mehsud is a senior commander in TTP and served as a trusted confidante of the group’s leader Hakimullah Mehsud,” Harf said.
She told reporters that the TTP had claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Times Square, New York, in 2010.
The group “had also vowed to attack the US homeland again,” Harf said, adding it had also been behind attacks on US diplomats in Pakistan as well as incidents that killed Pakistani civilians.
It was not immediately clear if Latif Meshud is related to Hakimullah Mehsud who took over as the commander of the Pakistani Taliban in 2009.
Karzai in August asked Pakistan to help arrange peace talks between his government and Taliban insurgents, during a visit to Islamabad for his first talks with newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Botched efforts by the United States in June to launch peace talks with the Taliban infuriated Karzai when the Taliban opened up an office in Qatar. The office has since been shut.