Baradar’s Capture

by Joshua Foust on 2/15/2010 · 20 comments

Besides the obvious LOL that Mullah Baradar was lying when he said the Taliban aren’t in Karachi, this is potentially huge news. We’ll Keep It Brief:

  • He is an Afghan Taliban figure captured in Sindh. That’s an unavoidable voiding of several Pakistani narratives about the nature and reach of the group.
  • It was a joint CIA-ISI operation, with the ISI taking the lead. “ISI sab ka dada hai,” as they say: the ISI is everyone’s granddaddy. We paid a price for this, keep an eye out for what it might be.
  • Baradar supposedly runs the Quetta Shura, which is largely responsible for insurgent activity in the South—including the areas surrounding Marjeh. What his capture means for the day-to-day and strategic activities of the Taliban is unclear, though it could be game-changing.
  • On the other hand, the Taliban has weathered the death of senior, effective, influential figures before, like the former Taliban “senior military commander” until his death-by-America in 2007. The Taliban, notably, regrouped and kept on fighting hard.
  • At least in the short term, this could be a great wedge for the U.S. to wield against local powers. In the long term, it might actually mean little because he’s really not that much of a wedge.
  • Normally, America’s increasing presence in Pakistan is elevated as a primary factor in that country’s destabilization. It is possible the ISI felt this high profile joint raid was worth the risk. It is also possible those destabilization fears are actually overblown. It is also possible the boys in ‘Pindi are incapable of long-term planning (see the bullet about costs, above).
  • Baradar wrote the Conduct Guidebook, which was meant to moderate some fo the Taliban’s more nastier excesses. Much like the assassination of Nek Mohammed is what gave us five years of Baitullah Mehsud, there is a chance that Baradar’s successor will be much worse. There is also the chance he’ll be weaker and less formidable.
  • There is a chance this is the opening stage of a gambit to force Mullah Omar to the negotiating table. The current Amnesty Law in Kabul, however, is already drawing fire for its gentle treatment of mass murderers.

We can continue along this vein for quite sometime, but here is the bottom line: this is a big deal. In the short run, it leaves a big hole right at the top of the Taliban; it might also not have any real long term affect on the war, since other senior, seemingly crucial figures have been killed off or captured without any real effect on the longer war.

However, I am cautiously optimistic. I truly wish all my grinding pessimism about Afghanistan—born from the West’s ossified policies, rather than anything inherent to Afghanistan itself—would come up empty, and we could start seeing more victories like this.

At the same time, President Obama and all his senior military leaders have been up front that America needed to “show some progress” during this year or all bets would be off. There is a very real chance the U.S. traded something we’d normally consider a big deal to get Baradar for his symbolic significance. If that’s the case, then this may not be the big deal it seems now.

But like I said: I’m choosing cautious optimism this will pay off in some way. Here’s hoping.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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anan February 16, 2010 at 12:58 am

This is very good news. It could change the perceptions of Taliban “momentum” in the short run. It will also make Indians, Russians, and Iranians more open to the idea that Pakistan is serious about turning on extremists.

Jim Pivonka February 16, 2010 at 5:32 am

India, Russia, and Iran should be as easily misled as the US? I doubt that

If it were not for the fact that “President Obama and all his senior military leaders have been up front that America needed to “show some progress” during this year or all bets would be off.” and this has led the administration to sacrifice Afghanistan on the altar of the 2012 campaign, I’d not even believe it of the Obama Presidency.

BruceR February 16, 2010 at 7:20 am

Ref your bullet 4, You might be thinking of senior leader Akhtar Osmani, killed by a US airstrike in late 2006. Dadullah was offed by Brit SOF. He was also lower in the hierarchy (and reportedly on the outs with Omar at the time of his death) compared to either Osmani or Beradur.

Joshua Foust February 16, 2010 at 8:45 am

Well, I didn’t want to narrow it to any specific guy, though in this case you’re right I got them mixed up. The point, I think, remains: we have knocked off several high-ranking Taliban leaders before—in 2007, several all within a few months of each other—and it didn’t meaningfully affect their operations. Either everyone we get is more senior than they are, or getting senior leaders really isn’t the way to win it.

BruceR February 16, 2010 at 11:58 am

It’s all hindsight at this point, but I think it’s still plausible that if Dadullah had lived longer we’d have had an even tougher time in Kandahar province in the last couple of years than we did. Saying they’re “still effective” is not the same as “as effective.” There’s no reason to believe the Taliban has been in any way maximally efficient… thank Christ.

To use a tortured analogy, losing Rommel to an airstrike in 1944, or Yamamoto in 1943, may not have been either sufficient or necessary for their defeat, but they certainly didn’t *help* the Axis. You might still need the Red Army in Berlin or the Atom Bomb to win things in the end, but in the meantime, lessened enemy effectiveness through the loss of HVTs can mean fewer friendly casualties, and increased staying power.

AG February 16, 2010 at 9:06 am

In the grander Taliban scheme, Biradar may not be a very crucial lynch pin (hence the ISI’s willingness to give him up.) It is very possible that as a perceived “moderate” Biradar’s capture will serve the purposes of cleaning up the rank and file of any potential turn coats (re: claims of various rumors of Taliban meetings in Maldives etc and the subsequent denials) while also placating the Americans.

Capt. Monkey February 16, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Ah man, so maybe I shouldn’t be planning that vacation to the Maldives after all?

BruceR February 16, 2010 at 9:49 am

@AG: Maybe, but the guy has been the key and undisputed strategic military leader for the movement for over 2 years. For Omar (or the ISI) to agree to giving him up now would basically mean that the last 2 years were seen as a failure (you know, kind of like the U.S. thought about Gen. McKiernan), which would itself be significant.

AG February 16, 2010 at 10:24 am

Possible… But it’s all a speculation although neither ISI nor the Taliban have given up on leaders due to perceived failures (at least I am not aware of any.) They could have offered someone else. Besides, ISI (or the Pakistani army) acts on its own imperatives which may be quite independent of what goes on in Afghanistan.

That the arrest was made in Karachi is also significant. In Quetta and its environs, it may have proven a bit more difficult to get hold of Biradar which suggests either a possible fissure within the Taliban or the ISI luring him away. The standard line is that Biradar was captured ten days ago, but who knows how long the ISI have held on to him.

BruceR February 16, 2010 at 11:49 am

Some said Dadullah was fingered because he was on the outs with the rest of the leadership. It was also implied in the case of Dadullah’s brother, Bakht Mohammed and other, lower level leaders. Some level of betrayal is common with humint-derived locational info.

Anyway, when the fix is in like that, the general tendency is going to be to have the scapegoat-of-the-week die a martyr, rather than be captured. Dead men, no tales, etc. Frankly, a cover for a defection would be more likely in this case then their main public leader getting the axe, either for excessive moderation or operational failure. So either he made a big OPSEC mistake, or he just wanted out, I figure (which could be because he felt insecure, of course).

The Pakistanis would have difficulty capturing someone in Quetta right now after all their denials that there’s anyone in Quetta. And reports that Karachi is being used as an alternate HQ have been growing for some time, so the location isn’t that surprising, and wouldn’t indicate either a fissure or a lure, necessarily. Any Pashtun with money in Southern Afghanistan (or, I imagine, Quetta) seems to travel to sample the creature comforts of Karachi at least a couple times a year.

DePetris February 16, 2010 at 12:30 pm

From a tactical standpoint, the detention of the Taliban’s No. 2 is a great opportunity for the United States to finally revamp their efforts to track down and capture (or kill) Mullah Omar, the man responsible for hosting, pampering, and sponsoring Osama bin-Laden and his Al’Qaeda cohorts. And while this is still an arduous task, the Baradar arrest is the best possible breakthrough the U.S. could have hoped for. Baradar is in frequent contact with Omar in the field, and his stature as the second in command provides him with a detailed and in-depth understanding of Omar’s behavior and perseverance. It is precisely this type of information that is required if a government wants to reignite a frustrating and long-winded cold-case.

A much deserving bright spot for the international counterterror campaign.

StephenM February 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I wonder if it was at all related to the recent capture of Marjah’s “shadow governor”. You think he gave up some senior leadership? Or maybe gave the CIA enough intel to leverage ISI to finally capture Baradar.

“The biggest break came in early February, when Afghan intelligence agents, tipped off by a source, arrested the Taliban’s so-called “shadow governor” of Marjah, who doubled as the insurgents’ military chief, said coalition and Afghan officials.

He was grabbed in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan’s biggest city, and was on his way to Pakistan, where the Taliban’s top leadership had ordered him to take refuge, officials said. “They were worried. Taliban has lost so many mid and senior commanders, they are hurting right now; that’s clear from a lot of intel,” said a senior coalition commander in Kabul.”

BruceR February 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

The squirter to end all squirters, then… With all due respect to Josh, even mowing-the-grass ops aren’t *completely* without value if they manage to get the garter snakes scrambling for the storm grates like this.

(Yes, I did have a lawnmowing business as a young man, why do you ask?)

Matt Osborne February 17, 2010 at 4:31 am

The high level of cooperation is because the two national interests converge. Pakistan wants continued aid and the US out of Afghanistan one day; the Obama administration desperately wants out of Afghanistan but cannot do so until there is (1) something resembling a state (2) al-Qaeda out of the region. Pakistan wants al-Qaeda out of their country and wants the offensive phase of OP Mushtarak over quickly so their provinces will settle down.

A couple of things: the CIA let the Pakistanis take the lead in the OP. That’s unheard-of and hints at strategic involvement (i.e., Obama in the loop). Second, this offensive is happening in the depths of local winter when spring is the usual time for offensives. IOW, this is preemptive.

DePetris February 17, 2010 at 8:36 pm

I would hope that the Central Intelligence Agency would defer the operation to Pakistani Authorities. After all, Baradar was located in the sprawling metropolis known as Karachi, one of Pakistan’s largest cities. I’m not sure if the CIA deferring to the Pakistanis is all that surprising, given the enormous amount of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan as a whole. Imagine what would happen if the Pakistani population discovered that their own military was pushed aside by some elite American commandos. Zardari would probably lose even more credibility among the people, and this would not necessarily bode well for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Overall, it’s a smart move by the CIA.

Dafydd February 17, 2010 at 8:51 am

Baradar was the negotiator representing Omar in Saudi Arabia.

I think that has to be of some significance.

Perhaps he was keen to give a little more ground than the leader? Or they suspected him of softening.

He is also reported to be the only really senior Durrani, so maybe the Pakistanis are getting involved in the whole ‘tribe’ idea.

I suppose it is also possible the Taliban knew that the ISI had to give something to the US, and therefore gave him up.

Grant February 17, 2010 at 10:59 am

Wonder what was given in exchange. Something about India maybe? Of course it is possible that the ISI simply has altered policy to view such groups as a threat but that’s too optimistic for my taste.

Toryalay Shirzay February 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm

What did the US gain from dealing with and helping Pakistan over the last 60 years?? Nothing.How come? because the scheming power of pakis is such that they will take a thirsty man to the spring and return him thirsty!That’s what happened to US still claiming Pakistan as its ally.

warlet February 26, 2010 at 6:04 pm

“ISI sab ka dada hai”
translates to “….is Mr. ISI’s granddaddy”.

“dada” is another way to refer to bully or gangsta as well. so could be also read as “…is Mr ISI’s bully”

but maybe your translation is right in context?

warlet February 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm

nevermind. i misread “sab” for “saab”… you are right!!

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