Arrests seen as crucial in fight against Taliban

Afghan National Army soldiers detain a suspected member of the Taliban in Marja on Thursday. Six allied troops died in the offensive Thursday, NATO said.

Associated Press

Afghan National Army soldiers detain a suspected member of the Taliban in Marja on Thursday. Six allied troops died in the offensive Thursday, NATO said.

KABUL — Two Taliban leaders in northern Afghan provinces have been arrested, according to Afghan and Pakistani officials. The arrests occurred in close proximity to the capture of the Taliban's second-in-command.

Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban leader in Kunduz province, and Mullah Mohammed, the leader in Baghlan province, were taken into custody in Pakistan about 10 days ago, according to the governor of Kunduz, Mohammed Omar.

The two men served as "shadow governors," part of the extensive network of Taliban leaders across Afghanistan who help coordinate the insurgency and mete out swift and often brutal settlements to local disputes.

Along with the recent capture of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's No. 2 commander, the arrests represent an important crackdown on insurgents who until now have largely operated with impunity on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There were differing accounts about where Salam and Mohammed were captured. Omar said that both men were arrested in Quetta, but a Pakistani security official said they were arrested in or around the northern city of Peshawar. There were also conflicting views about whether their arrests came before or after Baradar's arrest.

Officials in northern Afghanistan described the arrests as a potentially watershed moment in the fight against the Taliban. "This has already made a huge impact. They've lost morale, it's created distress among the Taliban, and their forces have scattered around," said Mohammed Akbar Barakzai, the Baghlan governor, in an interview.

Omar, the Kunduz governor, said Salam commanded about 2,000 fighters in his province and predicted that the arrest could potentially diminish Taliban strength by 40 to 50 percent in the area.

NATO holds key Marja positions

U.S.-led forces control the main roads and markets in the besieged Taliban stronghold of Marja, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said Thursday, even as fighting raged elsewhere in the southern farming town. NATO said six international service members died Thursday, bringing the number of allied troops killed in the offensive to 11 NATO troops and one Afghan soldier. Britain's Defense Ministry said two British soldiers were among the dead. The Associated Press said it learned from senior officers that more than 120 Taliban fighters have died.

NATO airstrike kills 7: Interior Ministry spokesman Zemari Bashary said Thursday that a NATO airstrike aimed at insurgents missed its target, killing seven policemen in northern Kunduz province. A NATO spokesman said the coalition is "aware of an incident" and trying to gather information before releasing a statement.

Blast kills 29: A bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan's Khyber tribal region killed 29 people Thursday. No group claimed responsibility, but police officials said the dead included militants from Lashkar-e-Islam, an insurgent group in Khyber that has clashed with another militant outfit known as Ansarul Islam. Both espouse Taliban-style ideologies.

Times wires

Arrests seen as crucial in fight against Taliban 02/18/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 18, 2010 9:54pm]

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