ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb. 16, 2010 — -- The Afghan Taliban's military commander was captured last week in a joint American-Pakistani operation and is now talking with authorities and providing intelligence, according to Pakistani intelligence and government officials and a senior American official.
However, one U.S. official said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is not quite cooperating with authorities and that they have not gotten anything actionable from him. Baradar is also saying that he has not seen Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban, though the official added that might literally be true as the men probably don't meet face to face.
Though some believe Baradar may be a "potential" reconciler, this official believes Baradar is hard core and ruthless and that possibility is unlikely and that the interrogation and the gleaning of any information could take a long time.
Baradar's's general location in the Pakistan port city of Karachi was first obtained by the CIA and then narrowed down by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, according to the senior Pakistani government official. ISI officers then arrested Baradar late last Wednesday or early last Thursday, with CIA knowledge of the entire operation. Baradar is believed to have been visiting, or near family at the time of his capture. He was picked up at a residence where he offered no resistance.
"This operation was an enormous success," the senior American official told ABC News. "It is a very big deal."
Baradar is second in command only to Mullah Omar, who U.S. officials also believe is hiding in Pakistan. But Baradar has essentially been running the Afghan Taliban, responsible for the day-to-day military operations, much of the Taliban's financing, and for being Omar's consigliere.
The official described Baradar as Mullah Omar's CEO and Omar himself as Chairman of the Board. Barader is an inner member who has been with Omar since the beginning. He ran operations for the Taliban.
Baradar fought alongside Omar in Afghanistan against the Soviets and is married to Omar's sister. The story of his capture was first reported by The New York Times.
Baradar rose to become the functional head of the Quetta Shura, the Taliban leadership group based in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. He guided the Afghan Taliban's military strategy as well as its tactics, especially in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where 15,000 troops are currently fighting the Taliban. He also helped control the Afghan Taliban's purse strings, according to a U.S. official with knowledge of Taliban financing.
U.S. Official: Baradar Capture 'Major Setback' for Afghan Taliban
"The money flowed through him," the official said.
U.S. officials in Washington were thrilled by the news of Baradar's capture, who was seen not just as Mullah Omar's right hand man but as a possible successor.
"This is a huge catch," a senior administration official tells ABC News. "We haven't had something like this since the start of the war."
So what happens now inside the Taliban? Officials say there will likely be a period of disarray and extreme paranoia within the organization as it purges those elements they believe are responsible for this capture. They add that it's possible the Taliban will bring out someone quickly to replace Baradar to give the sense that all is well in the organization.
The extra caution means the Taliban will be even more stringent about security, which could actually backfire on U.S. intelligence efforts.
Another official noted that the news of Baradar's apprehension came as the U.S. is leading a push through the Taliban's Afghan stronghold of Marja. "It's like a one-two punch," the official said.
A counterterrorism official said, "This is a major terrorist who has been at the core of Taliban operations for years. Having him off the battlefield means the near-term disruption of plotting against Coalition forces in Afghanistan."
U.S. officials hope his capture will lead to Omar's location and reveal details of the operations and finances of the Quetta Shura.
He is the most senior Taliban leader detained since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and his capture marks an important step in Pakistan's cooperation with the United States to hunt Afghan Taliban who use Pakistan as a safe haven to launch attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Senior Pakistani military officials have long denied American claims that they were ignoring Afghan Taliban militants inside their country, and the raid is one of the most significant steps Pakistan has ever taken to capture senior Afghan militants in its territory.
"This should set the minds of a lot of people at rest when it comes to our willingness to go after the Afghan Taliban," the senior Pakistani government official said.
Baradar's importance was highlighted by Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the former Taliban regime's foreign minister, in a Newsweek interview last summer. "Mullah Omar has put Baradar in charge," he said. "It is Mullah Omar's idea and his policy to stay quiet in a safe place, because he has a high price on his head, while Baradar leads."
Baradar helped choose the Taliban military commanders as well as "shadow governors" that the Taliban has installed in 33 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
Taliban Capture Marks Increased Cooperation Between U.S. and Pakistan
When the Afghan Taliban released a code of conduct pamphlet in Mullah Omar's name, it was Baradar who shaped its message, according to a U.S. official. The pamphlet told all Taliban fighters they were supposed to try and limit attacks that killed Afghan civilians in an effort to win them over, the official said. Baradar also tried to crack down on corruption with the Taliban, creating a committee to punish and even execute crooked commanders. He forced commanders to provide proof they were attacking Afghan and Western targets in order to collect compensation money provided by the Shura, according to the official.
"He was fighting for the same thing that McChrystal is fighting for, convincing the Afghan people they're on their side," the U.S. official said, referring to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of all U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Baradar also represented the most likely target for American efforts to reconcile with the Afghan Taliban leadership. Western officials describe him as a level-headed leader who listens to his subordinates.
According to Arsalah Rahmani, the former Taliban minister of higher education, said Baradar has already had contact with the Karzai government regarding the reconciliation process. Karzai and Baradar are both members of the Popalzai tribe. A United Nations official called Baradar a "non-military" Taliban leader and said he was the single political figure in the Taliban with whom the American and Afghan governments were willing to negotiate.
The cooperation between the CIA and the ISI that led to the capture is a marked shift from the relationship the two agencies have had in the last few years, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
The senior Pakistani government official said in 2002 and 2003, the CIA regularly partnered its technical capacity with the ISI's human intelligence to capture senior militant leaders inside Pakistan. But the trust between the two agencies dried up, and by 2006, cooperation was minimal.
Taliban Denies Leader Has Been Captured
The government official pointed out that Baradar was near the top of the American most wanted list and was much more of a concern to the United States than he was to Pakistan, which he did not attack. Similarly, the official said that Baitullah Mehsud, the former head of the Pakistani Taliban, was much more of a concern to Pakistan than he was to the United States, but cooperation between the two countries' intelligence agencies led to his death by a CIA drone attack.
"When we work together, we can do good work," the senior Pakistani government official said
"The U.S. and Pakistan enjoy closer military to military cooperation today than we have had in many years," U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson told the National Defense University in Islamabad last weekend. "As part of our shared vision of the next steps in the campaign against extremism and militancy, we are coordinating our activities and movements as we have never done before."
Early on Tuesday the Afghan Taliban denied that Baradar has been captured, saying he was still helping lead military activities across Afghanistan, including in Marja, Helmand.
"If it happened I would have known about it, and I haven't heard anything, so it must not be true," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told ABC News.
A member of the Pakistani Taliban in Karachi also denied any knowledge of Baradar's capture.
An operative who is in a position to know about the operation to capture Baradar suggested that Mullah Omar's problems could get worse. If the Taliban leader doesn't come up with someone to take Baradar's place who is respected by the commanders, then the Taliban could be disrupted by a round of infighting, even a disintegration of discipline.
ABC News' Mike Gudgell and Luis Martinez contributed to this report