Americans have direct access to Taliban No. 2

Wed Mar 17, 2010 5:13pm EDT
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By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. investigators have recently been given more regular direct access to Pakistani-led interrogations of the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 leader, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, one month after his arrest was announced.

Pakistani limitations on U.S. access to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar have been a source of tension since he was captured in the port city of Karachi. The joint operation that nabbed the Taliban's top military commander has been so shrouded in secrecy that U.S. and Pakistani officials could not even say with certainty what day it took place.

It was unclear whether the direct U.S. access, disclosed by U.S. officials who requested anonymity, was yielding useful intelligence.

But the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, held out Baradar's arrest as a potential game-changer, telling reporters separately that it "seems to have shaken the confidence of some of the Afghan Taliban leadership." McChrystal did not discuss the interrogation issue.

Previously undisclosed details about the joint U.S.-Pakistani raid, believed to have taken place in late January, shed new light on what has been described in Washington as a major intelligence and propaganda coup that could open divisions within Taliban ranks and weaken a deadly insurgency after eight years of war.

But many questions remain unanswered, such as whether Pakistan's powerful intelligence service was turning against its long-time Taliban allies, or took action against Baradar to ensure its interests would be represented in any future reconciliation process.

"We see indications that they are trying to figure out what way ahead that they should plot," McChrystal told reporters in a conference call from Afghanistan, referring to the tentative response of Taliban leaders to Baradar's arrest.

Mark Sedwill, a British diplomat serving as the senior NATO civilian official in Afghanistan, said: "In a sense I think they (Afghan Taliban leaders) are recalibrating because they don't yet know where they stand. That's a good thing -- we want them to be uncertain about their future."   Continued...