After Taliban Baradar arrest, does Bin Laden matter?
Pakistan announced the arrest of the most senior Afghanistan Taliban commander since 2001, Taliban number 2 Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. With growing intelligence cooperation between the US and Pakistan, could Osama bin Laden be next?
Boston and Cairo
The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, second within the Afghanistan Taliban only to the group's leader Mullah Omar, near Karachi about ten days ago was the latest sign of growing intelligence cooperation between Pakistan and the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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What could this mean for the hunt for Osama bin Laden, who remains America's most wanted man more than eight years after he helped plan the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, and is often said to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border?
The joint Pakistani and CIA operation to arrest Mr. Baradar was announced Monday, and US and Pakistani officials say his interrogation could yield a trove of useful intelligence in dealing with the core of the Taliban. Baradar acted until recently as the Afghanistan Taliban's military chief of staff and was heavily involved in their war planing. He also ran the Quetta Shura – a sort of ad hoc Taliban leadership council – that is based near the town of Quetta on the Pakistan side of the border.
His arrest is a reminder that US and Pakistani intelligence agents are stepping up the pressure on Taliban officials inside Pakistan. President Barack Obama has dramatically escalated the US drone assassination campaign inside Pakistan since taking office and intelligence sharing appears as good as it's been since Afghanistan war began.
The irony of Mr. Baradar's capture is that from an operational standpoint, he is far more important to America's enemies inside Afghanistan than Mr. Bin Laden is today – something that made his capture easier, since Baradar's ongoing involvement in planning operations against US troops left him more exposed to detection. Bin Laden, by contrast, is a powerful symbol for Al Qaeda and its self-styled global jihad, but from an operational standpoint he's a marginal figure inside Afghanistan. And globally, his dream of attracting legions of young Muslim men to his battle flag has fallen flat.
To be sure, Bin Laden popped his head above the parapet twice in January, with audiotapes urging an ongoing war with the United States that emphasized his differences from the Taliban. The Taliban, largely ethnic-Pashtuns from Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, have broadly national goals. Bin Laden and his smaller band of international jihadis – mostly Arabs, but with some Afghans and even a few Europeans and Americans among them – made clear he continues to view his struggle as a global one.
The audiotapes, as they typically do, sent a jolt of electricity through online chat rooms where fans of his global jihad and self-styled "holy warriors" gather.