Updates at bottom: Pakistan official blasts reports as 'propaganda'; 'Capture' comes two days after WaPo reported Obama admin. caught no 'high value detainees'
An Afghan Taliban spokesman has denied a U.S. report that its military commander was arrested by U.S. and Pakistani forces in a secret operation.
In a front page story, The New York Times reported that US and Pakistani intelligence forces captured Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar several days ago and that he is currently in Pakistani custody with US officials taking part in his interrogation.
US officials confirmed reports of the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar several days ago to Fox News.
"This operation was an enormous success," another official told ABC News. "It is a very big deal."
But several hours later a Taliban spokesman claimed Ghani, known to many Taliban as Mullah Baradar, was still in Afghanistan actively organizing the group's military and political activities.
"The rumours reported today on the arrest of Mullah Baradar are all untrue. It is a big lie," Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"He is currently in Afghanistan, where he is leading all jihad activities... He is here with us and is in contact with us," he added.
Baradar has been billed as second only to Taliban founder Mohammad Omar and officials have said that his capture would be a major blow to the militia, which is fighting to bring down the Western-backed government in Afghanistan.
Ahmadi charged that the US media report intended to deflect attention from a major U.S.-led assault on a cluster of villages in Marjah in southern Afghanistan, where U.S. Marines have reportedly run into pockets of resistance.
"The sole goal of such baseless reporting and propaganda is to make up for the failure in Marjah. There is serious resistance ongoing in Marjah," he said.
Reports of Baradar's capture came as American, British and Afghan forces entered the fourth day of a massive push against the Taliban in Afghanistan, called Operation Mushtarak.
Some analysts have speculated news of the capture was leaked to restore the US intelligence community's credibility following intense criticism over the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt.
Pakistan official blasts reports as propaganda
"Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Tuesday branded as 'propaganda' reports that the top Taliban military commander had been arrested in a joint Pakistani-US spy operation," Pakistan website Dawn.com reports.
The article continues, "Speaking to reporters outside parliament in Islamabad, the cabinet minister stopped short of either confirming or denying the media reports."
“We are verifying all those we have arrested. If there is any big target, I will show the nation,” Malik said.
“If the New York Times gives information, it is not a divine truth, it can be wrong. We have joint intelligence sharing and no joint investigation, nor joint raids,” Malik added.
“We are a sovereign state and hence will not allow anybody to come and do any operation. And we will not allow that. So this (report) is propaganda,” he added.
Military blogger Bill Roggio writes, "Note that Malik didn't deny the report that Baradar was arrested; he merely is saying it hasn't been verified. In fact, it appears the real issue he is addressing is CIA participation in covert activities against the Taliban."
'Capture' comes two days after WaPo reported Obama admin. caught no 'high value detainees'
The New York Times held their story at the White House's request.
The New York Times learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials, who contended that making it public would end a hugely successful intelligence-gathering effort. The officials said that the group’s leaders had been unaware of Mullah Baradar’s capture and that if it became public they might cover their tracks and become more careful about communicating with each other.
The Times is publishing the news now because White House officials acknowledged that the capture of Mullah Baradar was becoming widely known in the region.
Curiously, the Times reports came just two days after a front page Washington Post story titled "Under Obama, more targeted killings than captures in counterterrorism efforts" attracted a lot of attention.
Sunday's Post story claimed, "When a window of opportunity opened to strike the leader of al-Qaeda in East Africa last September, U.S. Special Operations forces prepared several options. They could obliterate his vehicle with an airstrike as he drove through southern Somalia. Or they could fire from helicopters that could land at the scene to confirm the kill. Or they could try to take him alive."
"The White House authorized the second option," the story written by Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick continued, and, as a result, "the opportunity to interrogate one of the most wanted U.S. terrorism targets was gone forever."
The Sunday Post article stated, "The result has been dozens of targeted killings and no reports of high-value detentions."
However, in today's Post article on the alleged Baradar capture, which DeYoung also wrote, there is no reference to Sunday's article.
"His capture is by far the most important detention since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the first known capture of a top-ranking insurgent during the Obama administration," DeYoung writes today, with no trace of irony.
DeYoung also implies that she had heard reports of the capture beforehand, adding, "Results of Baradar's questioning have been circulating in Washington since he was detained Wednesday."
The Washington Post writer doesn't explain what kind of "results" have been obtained, as the Times reported, "It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture had provided a window into the Taliban and could lead to other senior officials."
Neither paper makes any mention of concerns that Pakistan might be using enhanced interrogation techniques or torture that would be outlawed in the United States.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs fielded a question today on whether he knew if waterboarding would be employed (Report and video at this link).
Bloomberg reported late Tuesday that two Taliban officials are confirming the capture, but with a caveat:
Baradar, who has directed daily operations as deputy to Mullah Omar, was seized last week, two Taliban officials said. They disputed a report by the New York Times earlier today that he was nabbed in Karachi by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence teams.
Taliban commander Akhtar Mohammad said by phone that Baradar was taken during weekend fighting in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Another Taliban official, Abdul Qayum, said he “was captured by foreign troops on Sunday, along with some of his bodyguards, during the operation in Marjah,” a town in Helmand attacked by U.S. Marines on Feb. 13. Qayum also spoke by phone from an unspecified place in Afghanistan.
Baradar is the deputy leader of the “Quetta shura,” the top council of Taliban leaders, which analysts and U.S. officials say fled into hiding near the Pakistani border city of Quetta after being driven from Afghanistan in 2002. Pakistan denies that the Taliban leadership operates on its territory
(with AFP report)