ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -- The Pakistani military confirmed today that the Afghan Taliban's top military commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, had been captured. U.S. and Pakistani officials who declined to be identified said on February 16 that Baradar had been captured in the Pakistani city of Karachi in a raid by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
"At the conclusion of detailed identification procedure, it has been confirmed that one of the persons arrested happens to be Mullah Baradar," the military said. It declined to say where he had been caught or to give other details, citing security reasons.
The capture came as U.S. forces spearhead one of NATO's biggest offensives against the Taliban in Afghanistan in an early test of U.S. President Barack Obama's troop surge policy. U.S. officials and analysts said it was too soon to tell whether Pakistan's cooperation against Baradar would be extended to other top militants on the U.S. hit list.
The arrest followed months of behind-the-scenes prodding by U.S. officials who saw inaction by Islamabad as a major threat to their Afghan war strategy.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik had on February 16 declined to confirm Baradar's capture, saying a large number of people had fled operations by NATO forces in Afghanistan to Pakistan and many had been picked up. He denied that there had been any joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. agents.
Though nuclear-armed Pakistan is a U.S. ally, anti-U.S. sentiment runs high and many people have long been suspicious of the U.S.-led campaign against militancy and oppose any U.S. security operations in Pakistan.
'He Is With Us'
A Pakistani intelligence official said security agents had been searching for Baradar in the southwestern city of Quetta, where the United States says a Taliban leadership council is based.
"Sensing that he might be arrested, he somehow slipped out of Quetta and into Karachi, maybe in disguise. That's where we arrested him, about four days back," said the official, who declined to be identified. "He is with us and is being interrogated."
Asked if the United States was involved in the questioning, he said: "Yes of course. We have that sort of cooperation with them."
Baradar's arrest comes amid a a renewed drive for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Asked if the Taliban commander could help with any reconciliation process, the Pakistani agent said: "It might lead to that eventually...Anything is possible but so far we have not come to that."
Pakistan is anxious to have a say in postwar Afghanistan in order to limit the influence of old rival India there. Anger in Pakistan towards the United States has been exacerbated by attacks by pilotless U.S. drone aircraft on militants in lawless enclaves along the Afghan border.
In the latest strike, a U.S. drone fired a missile into the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border, killing at least three militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said. The drone targeted a militant compound in the village of Tapi, about 15 kilometers east of Miranshah, the main town in the region, which is a hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. It was the second attack on the village this week. There was no information about the identity of those killed or of three men wounded in the strike, they said.
Pakistan objects to the drone strikes, saying they are a violation of its sovereignty and complicate its efforts against militancy. The Pakistani Army has made gains against militants battling the state over the past 10 months but it has ruled out a major offensive against Afghan Taliban factions on its soil, saying its forces are already stretched.
The United States has carried out 14 drone strikes in Pakistan this year, according to a Reuters tally, compared with 51 last year and 32 in 2008.