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Capture of No. 2 Taliban Leader Called ‘Significant Win'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2010 – The recent capture of the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 leader and top operational commander represents a “significant win,” a White House official said.

U.S. officials have said little in public on the capture in Pakistan of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar -- the Taliban’s second-in-command to Mohammad Omar -- but White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs yesterday called it “a significant win.”

“Obviously, this was the number-two Afghan Taliban -- the operational chief -- and it's a big success for our mutual efforts in the region,” Gibbs told White House reporters.

The Pakistani government has confirmed that Baradar is in custody after Pakistani officials apprehended him reportedly in conjunction with the CIA, said Gibbs, who declined to disclose any information gleaned from the Taliban commander’s interrogation.

American officials reportedly have described Baradar as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago.

Speaking in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday expressed appreciation for the increasing cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.

“It is something that I personally believe is in the best interest of both of our countries,” she said of Pakistan’s support.

News of the apprehension comes as NATO and Afghan forces wage an assault against Taliban fighters ostensibly under Baradar’s command in southern Afghanistan. Officials said the offensive on a Taliban stronghold in central Helmand province has yielded both early progress and stiff resistance in the area of Marja.

Some 15,000 NATO and Afghan forces are engaged in Operation Moshtarak, which in Pashto and Dari means “Operation Together,” including 8,000 to 10,000 ground troops. Six allied troops have died since fighting began on Feb. 13, including four American forces, officials said.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters today that simultaneous operations on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border are causing the Taliban to be “squeezed.”

“Our hope is clearly that this is creating a certain amount of discontent, worry, turmoil within the organization,” Morrell said, “so that Taliban fighters are going to think twice about remaining loyal to this cause and that this will ultimately adversely impact the momentum that they have enjoyed over the past several months.”

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