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Top Taliban Commander Captured

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

But first, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly explores the significance of his capture and whether Mullah Baradar is talking to interrogators.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: U.S. spy agencies have been chasing Mullah Baradar for years. A U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked not to be named while discussing a classified operation, says Baradar's capture will deal a severe psychological blow to the Taliban and at a time when it's already facing increased military pressure. It's notable too that Baradar was captured in a city, Karachi, far from the tribal areas where most of the action is. Senator John Kerry chairs the Foreign Relations Committee and is in Islamabad today for talks. He told CBS News, this is a sign that Pakistan now recognizes quote, "this fight is their fight."

JOHN KERRY: Wherever people go, wherever they are, the government of Pakistan is determined to continue to ferret out those people who engage in violent extremist acts against the people of Pakistan.

LOUISE KELLY: U.S. Defense and intelligence officials describe Mullah Baradar's detention as significant partly because of who he is and partly because of what he knows. Richard Barrett, who heads the al-Qaida and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations, says Baradar could be the key to catching the Taliban's very biggest fish.

RICHARD BARRETT: He will certainly know where Mullah Omar is, will certainly know how to get in touch with him because if anybody in the Taliban retains regular contact with Mullah Omar, it is Mullah Baradar. He is the key link.

LOUISE KELLY: That said, Barrett believes it's unlikely Baradar would immediately give up someone he's been so close to for years. Rather, Barrett says interrogators may be coaxing from him big picture intelligence about the state of the Taliban, what its leaders want, what it would take to negotiate an end to the war.

BARRETT: You know, this whole business is not going to be finished by fighting. It's going to be sorted out by people talking and coming up with some sort of solution. This offers an opportunity to talk to somebody extremely senior and influential.

LOUISE KELLY: Indeed Baradar's capture could be of almost unlimited intelligence value, says Hank Crumpton, a career CIA officer who led the Agency's Afghan campaign after 9/11. And Crumpton sees an opportunity here to learn more not just about the Afghan Taliban, but all the groups the U.S. and its allies are fighting in the region.

HANK CRUMPTON: I think you would have insight particularly into al-Qaida.

LOUISE KELLY: Particularly into al-Qaida as opposed to some of the other groups.

CRUMPTON: Yes, just because of the alliances that they have. Al-Qaida depends on the Taliban to provide them safe haven.

LOUISE KELLY: It's not clear why Baradar was arrested now after so many years in hiding. Hank Crumpton believes it may be thanks to a confluence of three developments: the U.S. military surge on the Afghan side of the border, stepped up CIA drone attacks on the Pakistani side and stepped up efforts by the Pakistanis to take on extremists within their cities. CIA veteran Crumpton argues it all bodes well for future U.S.-Pakistani cooperation.

CRUMPTON: Anytime you have a joint success, that always reinforces the trust, deepens the partnership and I think will lead to even bigger and better operations.

LOUISE KELLY: Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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