WASHINGTON The top military commander of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret raid by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces, The New York Times reported on Monday.
Citing U.S. government officials, the Times said Mullah Baradar, described as the most significant Taliban figure captured since the start of the Afghanistan war, had been in Pakistani custody for several days and was being interrogated by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence.
The White House and CIA declined comment on the report and the Pentagon also had no immediate comment.
The Times cited officials as saying the operation to capture Mullah Baradar was conducted by Pakistan's military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, which was accompanied by CIA operatives.
The newspaper said U.S. officials described Mullah Baradar as ranking second in influence in the Taliban only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, and that he was a close associate of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden before the September 11 attacks.
The newspaper said it was not clear if he was talking, but it quoted the officials as saying his capture could lead to other senior Taliban officials. The officials voiced hope he would provide the location of Mullah Omar.
U.S. Marines are currently leading one of NATO's biggest offensives against Taliban Islamic militants in Afghanistan.
The assault is the first test of U.S. President Barack Obama's plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has made a steady comeback since a U.S.-led invasion ousted it in 2001.
The newspaper said it learned of the operation on Thursday, but delayed reporting it after a request by White House officials who said disclosing it would end a very successful intelligence push.
The Times said it was now publishing the report because White House officials acknowledged that news of the capture was becoming broadly known in the region.
U.S. officials were quoted as saying that in addition to the Taliban's military operations, Mullah Baradar ran the group's leadership council, often called the Quetta Shura.
The Times said the participation of Pakistan's spy service in Mullah Baradar's capture could suggest a new level of cooperation from Pakistan's leaders, who it said had been ambivalent about U.S. efforts against the Taliban.
It quoted former CIA official Bruce Riedel as saying he had not been aware of Mullah Baradar's capture before being told by the Times, but that the raid constituted a "sea change in Pakistani behaviour."