Taliban Defense Minister grabbed after flurry of diplomatic pressure
Pakistani security forces have captured Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, according to two of the New York Times’ sources in the Pakistani government. It should be noted this has not been confirmed by NATO forces in Afghanistan, however. Mullah Obaidullah was the Taliban Defense Minister under during the reign of the Taliban from 1996 until the United States toppled the government in the fall of 2001. He is the most senior Taliban figure captured to date, and “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Osama. bin Laden, ” as well as part of the “inner core of the Taliban leadership around the Mullah Muhammad Omar who are believed to operate from the relative safety of Quetta.” Obaidullah is a member of the Taliban’s Shura Mujlis, or executive council, and is thought to be third in command.
Obaidullah was arrested in Quetta in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, which borders Kandahar and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is making a push during their spring offensive. The Taliban have established a command and control network for senior leadership to direct operating in Afghanistan in and around the city of Quetta.
The arrest of Obaidullah can provide significant intelligence to NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan. A man of his stature may know the whereabout of Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other senior Taliban and al Qaeda leaders. The questions are: will Pakistan give access to NATO and Afghan intelligence, and will they take further action on any intelligence gained?
Pakistan has a history of making arrests and conducting strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda camps when the political situation suits it. The arrest of Obaidullah occurred as the US and Britain are pressuring Pakistan to take meaningful action against the Taliban and al Qaeda camps, leaders and operatives inside its borders. President Bush, Vice President Cheney and CIA director Kappes have made public and private statements that Pakistan’s situation in the western and southern region could no longer be tolerated.
Mullah Akhtar Usmani, the Taliban’s operational commander for Uruzgan, Nimroz, Kandahar, Farah, Herat and Helmand provinces, and a member of the Taliban’s Shura Mujlis, was the senior most Taliban leader to killed or captured over the past year. Usmani was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Helmand province on December 19, 2006.
Afghan forces also captured Taliban spokesman Dr. Muhammad Hanif on January 16, 2007. Hanif is has given numerous interviews with the media, and issued press releases and rebuttals to NATO and Afghan statements. He was said to have been in instant satellite and email contact with the press. Hanif claimed that Mullah Omar is operating out of Quetta.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.