Pakistan frees Mullah Obaidullah, other senior Taliban leaders


Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.

President Pervez Musharraf’s promise to hunt the Taliban as part of its suspension of the constitution and a virtual state of emergency rings hollow as the Taliban’s grip on the northwest Frontier Province tightens. Newsweek reported the Pakistani government has released several senior Taliban commanders captured inside Pakistani territory over the past year. The leaders were among 25 Taliban exchanged for over 200 Pakistani soldiers captured by South Waziristan commander Baitullah Mehsud in late August.

Among those freed from Pakistani jails are Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, Amir Khan Haqqani, two brothers of slain Taliban commander Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Usmani, and Baitullah Mehsud’s cousin.

Mullah Obaidullah was the Taliban Defense Minister under during the reign of the Taliban from 1996 until the US toppled the government in the fall of 2001. He was 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 was a member of the Taliban’s Shura Majlis, or executive council, and was thought to be third in command.

Obaidullah was arrested in Quetta in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, which borders Kandahar and Helmand provinces in Afghanistan. The Taliban have established a command and control network for senior leadership to direct operating in Afghanistan in and around the city of Quetta.

Amir Khan Haqqani, the former Taliban military commander of Afghanistan’s southeastern province of Zabul, and Abdul Bari, the former governor of Helmand province, were both captured along with Obaidullah in February 2006. Haqqani was released, but it is unclear if Bari is still in custody.

Baitlullah Mehsud, the powerful Taliban commander of South Waziristan who recently fought the Pakistani military to a standstill, demanded an end to military operations as well as the release of the 25 senior Taliban commanders as condition to the ceasefire.

The Pakistani government has caved to the demands of Baitullah. The Taliban leaders have been released, while the government reinstated the 2005 Sara Rogha accord, which prevents the government from operating with no restrictions on Taliban activities inside or outside of Pakistan.

In August, Mehsud captured almost 300 Pakistani troops — an entire company — as it conducted a resupply mission in South Waziristan. The company surrendered without firing a shot after the Taliban surrounded the convoy. The government freed over 100 of Mehsud’s “tribesmen” immediately after the troops were captured in an attempt to secure their release.

All of the troops have since been released. Several of the troops were beheaded. The morale of the Pakistani military has plummeted after suffering defeat after defeat at the hands of the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province. Troops are surrendering or deserting to Taliban fighters in Swat at an alarming rate.

Over 29 Taliban and al Qaeda camps are known to be in operation in both North and South Waziristan alone.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Dave says:

    Bill, do you think the US will start cutting aid to Pakistan? It doesn’t seem like Musharraf has any interest in fighting the Taliban.

  • An interesting excerpt from Musharraf’s national address shortly after 9/11 explaining to the Pakistani people why he chose to ally Pakistan with America and not the Taliban.

    And it is said that if you are facing two problems and you have to choose one, then it is better to take the lesser evil.

    Some of my compatriots and colleagues are very concerned about Afghanistan. And I want to tell them that I myself and my regime is much more concerned about Afghanistan than them. What have I not done for Afghanistan and for Taliban? When the whole world is against them, I have met more than 20 or 25 leaders of the world and I have told all of them in favor of Taliban. I have tried to persuade them not to impose sanctions. I have told them to engage Taliban. And I had spoken to President Clinton about them. I spoke to Chinese leaders. I have spoken to so many other leaders about Taliban. But I have to say with regret that none of my friends agreed to my proposals.

    Even in the present circumstances, we are trying to negotiate with them. I sent the chief of ISI, with my personal letter to Mullah Omar. I told Mullah Omar in my letter about the seriousness of the situation. I would have (inaudible) somehow to come out of this serious situation so that Afghanistan and Taliban do not face any kind of harm. Not even this, I’m even telling America whatever their intentions are, they should exercise balance. And we are also asking for any evidence against Osama bin Laden.

    But I would like to ask, how can we save Afghanistan and Taliban from getting into any harm or try to lessen the harm? Can we do it by cutting off the international community or going with them? I’m convinced that your verdict would be that if we go along with the international community then alone we can influence their decisions.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/12/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day so check back often.

  • templar knight says:

    This is bad, very bad. Of all the things that could have happened as a result of Musharrafs coup, what we have going on right now is just about the worst possible scenario.
    The Taliban have been allowed, nay, encouraged, to take over the entire NWFP, al-Queda fighters from other parts of the World are flowing into this area, AQ training camps are open and expanding, and Pakistan’s military is ineffective at best.
    All the while the rest of Pakistan is in complete turmoil, opening up the entire nation to a possible takeover by pro-Taliban military or political players. And the nuclear arsenal possibly subject to falling into the hands of terrorists. I can’t imagine how this situation can come out with a good ending.

  • Panzramic says:

    I agree here. This is very, very bad. Especially because we are close (how close, I don’t know) to dealing with Iran. Now that Pakistan has begun to fall apart, we’ve got another huge problem on our plates. It should be an interesting year.

  • RJ says:

    Yesterday CNN with Wolf had former ambassador Holbrook and un ambassador Bolton on for a little discussion. If you saw this, then you saw two different approaches and priorities to Pakistan.
    I like Bolton’s view and his priorities. When one sees the Pakistan military (or police) using sticks to beat back “lawyers” during a demostration, while in another part of this country Taliban leaders are being set free…whoops, we got some real trouble brewing!
    Expect to hear the crowd that clamored for Osama to be hunted down and killed while the Afghan war was in its early phase to come on strong pointing to these Pakistani problems as resulting from not following through and getting lost in Iraq.
    Meanwhile Bolton points to protecting their nukes as America’s top problem in Pakistan.
    I wonder why? Seems to me more fear the Taliban than lawyers in Pakistan’s military ruling elite.
    Maybe India’s rulers can help us here.

  • templar knight says:

    This will be a winter to rival 1940 in my opinion. The Taliban/AQ will be consolidating, rearming and re-positioning their forces for a spring offensive in Afghanistan, augmented by thousands of fresh forces from Pakistan. Foreign forces and monies are likely pouring in as we speak, and I hope multi-national forces will be prepared for what we’ve had in Iraq for the past 3 years.
    Suicide bombings, IEDs, EFPs and co-ordinated attacks by large Taliban/AQ formations can be expected just as soon as the weather breaks. Extra forces need to be put in place this winter in preparation for what is to come. Air power particularly needs to be expanded, and should be used to inflict maximum casualties on large formations of Taliban.
    If we neglect to take measures now, I predict a third to a half of Afghanistan will fall to the Taliban within a year. And we’ll be back to square one. With nastier attacks coming for the West from this region, possibly nuclear in nature. And further destablization of the ME.

  • Thanos says:

    Syntax/edit relic in the para the starts “In August”. we get what you are saying however.
    I was wondering why the hostages were suddenly freed, now we know. Interesting indeed.

  • MattR says:

    Templar knight, why would the Taliban be interested in Afghanistan when Pakistan has more to offer?

    So what’s the strategy for keeping the pressure in Iraq, keeping Iran from creating nukes, keeping Pakistan from losing nukes, and helping Afghanistan? We don’t have the resources to have a hot war everywhere at once, and Russia and China wouldn’t mind seeing us stretched even more.

    In Pakistan the people in the street aren’t going to trust us as long as we back Musharraf. He just played his cards. If there’s one thing Iraq has taught us it’s that trust of the people in the street is everything to winning an insurgency. So, is supporting Musharraf so he’ll fight the Taliban right now a good idea?

  • templar knight says:

    “…why would the Taliban be interested in Afghanistan when Pakistan has more to offer?”
    That’s a great question. The answer comes straight from the Taliban, as they have said, and continue to say, that Afghanistan is the key to the whole area. If they can kick the US and its allies out of Afghanistan, then Pakistan falls into their hands as well. That is their declared strategy, and is why there is a continual stream of resources and reinforcements crossing the border from the NWFP into Afghanistan. As long as US forces are active in Afghanistan, the Taliban/AQ forces are vulnerable.

  • GK says:

    A stupid question perhaps – but why don’t we just adopt the tactics of the successful ‘surge’ in Iraq to Afghanistan, where US troop deaths are far lower? Wouldn’t that work quickly in Afghanistan.
    Bringing stability and freedom to Afghanistan, no matter what, would be easier than the successes we are now seeing in Iraq.
    So why is this hard?

  • bb says:

    I’ll answer your question with a question
    How do you protect Islamic Fundamentalists from Islamic Fundamentalists?
    The Taliban are “resurgent” in these areas because these areas are the Taliban. Does everyone support the Taliban in these regions, well duh no of course not. But there is a much better than critical mass of supporters of the Taliban in those regions. The Taliban WIN elections in these regions.

  • GK says:

    There were areas in Iraq where AQ could win elections too. That does not mean we did not eradicate AQ in some of those areas.
    Why does the Taliban even exist, 6 years after our initial toppling of them? Should we not have just killed enough of them so that hey never get above critical mass? Wasn’t that sort of the whole point?

  • templar knight says:

    I’m afraid you have a very good point, bb. In at least half of Afghanistan, particularly the Pashtu regions, a large number of people support the Taliban. I doubt whether it is half, but it is a large enough percentage(40% or so) to intimidate the other part into supporting the Taliban, or at least not opposing them openly.
    Frankly, I’m pessimistic about the future of this area, and feel much more confident about Iraq, where the people are less radicalized, and are used to living in the civilized world. The tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan remind me of nothing so much as the desert regions detailed in one of my favorite novels, Dune.

  • RJ says:

    Anybody remember those women who were executed in the soccer stadium in Afghanistan? Dropping crystal radios into the Swat areas etc. may not be enough to change their way of life. I don’t think dvds could do it either. Taking away their muscle, their power to wage war through absolute defeat will certainly get the message to these people. More pain than they ever could imagine will present them with a decision: life or death!
    Then again, maybe all they ever really wanted was to just live the life they knew and their history said was the right way to live one’s life. OK, so a little opium can bring in extra money to buy some stuff at the local market…who cares?
    I think Bolton knows the real trouble…who controls those Pakistani nukes?
    And we all know who would like to have just a couple of nukes to visit the Great Satan!
    Note how Ms. Bhutto wears that head scarf everywhere she goes…kinda paying respect to those Taliban boys out there in the wild, no?
    Anyone notice how our oil prices at the pump are climbing? War comes home in many ways. I just don’t think the Great Satan has really been awake as to those who don’t like the 21st century and all the realities it is bringing. High tech man confronts low tech loving, spiritual (kinda) man.
    What do the women want? Maybe this is the real question that needs to be asked. On all sides.

  • chris says:

    It would appear as though Musharaff is attempting to de-escalate the war against the Taliban so as to mullify ideologues within Pakistan and reduce to the complications of fighting a two front war.
    It is my view that he will continue to make backroom deals with the Taliban so he can concentrate on what he perceives as the more pressing political battle. However, if past is prologue, it is likely the Taliban will use the temporary lull to their tactical advantage and break any and all agreements when it best suites them.
    At some point in time the US MUST move against these sanctuaries. It is unlikely any Pakistani govt will have the ability or desire to effectively take these places down. However, due to our force strength in theater it would appear any such effort is some time away (if ever). Faulure to attack these sanctuaries allows a de facto terrorist state to operate and train terrorists at will.
    The question will be, will the United States open a back channel with Bhutto with the topic of these provinces as a starting point for supporting her effort….

  • chris says:

    Lisa, I’m not sure it is quite that straight forward. I think he is trying to walk a very thin line. Anytime you walk a tightrope there is a very real chance of falling and I think what we have now is a near fall. The bigger question is, do we hang our hat on one guy in the hopes he can hang on (and sour the general population) or do we try and back a reforming canidate or a reforming process. Both strategies have merit but history is also replete with mistakes stemming from either strategy.
    Either way, we have to get at the terrorists who currently have sanctuary inside Pakistan. I am affraid the US will become increasingly timid to push the issue for fear of helping topple Musharaff.
    But I also suspect we are currently talking to a number of “potential” leaders inside Pakistan who may be offering us the green light if they were in power.
    Killing bad guys and taking down these sanctuaries will curb global terrorism and reduce recruitment. It is my hope and prayer that our next president does not fall back into a defensive posture but continues on the offensive.

  • Follow her instincts

    In the runup to her return from self-imposed exile, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto was will to cut a political deal with President Pervez Musharraf. Even after he suspended the Constitution, she refused to make a complete break.

  • templar knight says:

    Thanks, very compelling commentary. I think Musharrah is more like the guy with a leaky raft trapped in a storm. He thinks if he can just weather the storm that he can fix the raft later. I think his raft is sinking, and were I in a postion of power, I would start looking for alternative leadership to support, whether that be Bhutto or others, or perhaps a combination of both.
    Regardless of what happens to Musharraf, it is quite obvious to me that the events in the NWFP are out of the hands of the national government. The Taliban/AQ are in the process of setting up a state-within-a-state, and AQ fighters and money are pouring into the region. Events in Afghanistan come springtime will demonstrate how right or wrong I am.
    But I am in total agreement that these sanctuaries in Pakistan will have to be dealt with one way or the other. We now have training camps for terrorists operating there that are turning out bomb-makers targeting even such remote places as the Maldives. For the sake of all humanity, the cancer in Pakistan needs to be cut out, as it is now in the process of metatasizing into Africa, Asia, Europe and the ME.

  • chris says:

    templar knight, we are in broad agreement.
    On a larger scale, I think Iraq may represent a bit of an apex in Islamic direct action ideology. I recall the direct action movement in pre meiji Japan (yoshida shoin) as a precursor to the establishing of a modern Japan. Japanese responded to the frustration of a constraining social space and govt system that was ill equipped to respond to the emergence of the west, literally knocking on its door. In response, Shoin and other well educated extremists provided the ideological underpinning for a wave of assasinations of Tokugawa Bakufu officials. Shoin and others wished to see the reemergence of the Emperor at the head of a united Japan. It strikes me that the reactionary appeal of salafism also looks backward in time to a period of moral certaintude, righteousness and strength.
    The direct action campaign of Japan was relatively short lived but it cleared a social space of intellectual thought that forced leaders and thinkers of the day to figure out how to meet the challenges of the west and how to go forward. In response, Japan ultimately aggressively opened its doors and modernized in a way that no other country has ever done. What is interesting is that Yoshida Shoin and others looked outside themselves and Japan and saw their future as dependent upon modernization and emulation of the west not harking back to a more constraining view of the world.
    The two instances are very, very different, don’t get me wrong. But in both instances I find some of the similarities interesting.

  • templar knight says:

    Thanks, chris. It had not occurred to me to compare the current situation in Pakistan with the rise of the modern state in Japan. That’s an interesting concept, and one I’m afraid I know little about. But on a cautionary note, let me say that the militancy of certain segments of Japanese society was not overcome, and gave way to several wars, including the occupation of Manchuria and parts of China, and with the culmination of the militant policy being the explosion of two nuclear bombs that ended WWII and the militancy of Japanese society.
    That is one of the reasons why I believe so much in inflicting maximum casualties on the Taliban/AQ when they either attack in large formations, or can be caught in large gatherings, other than funerals. I honestly don’t think these people will give up their militancy until they have suffered very heavy casualties. This belief in violent jihad will only be tempered when the suffering they are going through outweighs any advantage they think they attain for being a martyr and dying for Islam.

  • chris says:

    Let me be clear, it would be a serious mistake to compare the two events in any meaningful way beyond tangentially . My point was merely to point out that both movements were a reaction to perceived exogenous threats from the west.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    we have given the General $10billion since 9/11, and this guy has given us nothing. our hope has to be Bhutto, who will let us strike across the border. the islamofacist takeover of p-stan is in progress. just because he says we can’t conduct ops in the NWFP don’t mean we don’t. iam sure there are plenty of covert ops going on, and its not very hard for a 6 man team to operate for 10 to 20 days w/out being compromised or need for re-supply.


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