Kabul — Pakistani authorities, aided by U.S. intelligence, have apprehended more Afghan Taliban chiefs following the capture of the movement’s No. 2 figure — arrests that together represent the biggest blow to the insurgents since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
The arrests of more than a dozen Taliban leaders, including known associates of Osama bin Laden, came as militants fought to keep a grip on their southern stronghold of Marjah. Hundreds of militants were holding out against a six-day-old assault by 15,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops.
Nine Taliban militants linked to al-Qaida were nabbed in three raids late Wednesday and early Thursday near the port city of Karachi, Pakistani intelligence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t supposed to release the information.
Two Taliban shadow governors also were apprehended in separate raids, Afghan and Pakistani officials said without giving specifics.
The arrests follow the capture in Karachi of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second only to the Taliban’s one-eyed leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The White House and the Pakistani army have confirmed Baradar’s arrest but have released few details, including when and how he was apprehended.
Pakistani intelligence officials said Baradar was traveling by car on the outskirts of Karachi when agents intercepted his vehicle, arresting him along with three bodyguards. One intelligence official said Baradar has provided “useful” information that led to the arrests of other militants.
They said communications intercepted by U.S. authorities played a key role in tracking and arresting the suspects, who were in Karachi buying timers and other bomb-making equipment. They were taken to Islamabad for questioning.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the U.S. was pleased with the recent arrests. He declined to say whether they were the result of better intelligence or an increased willingness by Pakistan to go after suspected militants.