WASHINGTON — The Taliban's top military commander has been captured in Pakistan in a joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces, The New York Times reported.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has been in Pakistan's custody for several days, the newspaper reported on its Web site late Monday, quoting U.S. government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Baradar was captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in a raid by Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, with CIA operatives accompanying the Pakistanis, the Times reported. Pakistan has been leading the interrogation of Baradar, but Americans were also involved, it said.
The Times described Baradar as the No. 2 behind Taliban founder and Osama bin Laden associate Mullah Muhammad Omar. Baradar has been running the battlefield command for the Taliban since the 2006 death of Taliban military chief Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Usmani.
The Times said it learned of the operation Thursday but delayed reporting it at the request of White House officials who argued that publicizing it would end a valuable intelligence-gathering effort by making Baradar's associates aware of his capture.
The newspaper said it decided to publish the news after White House officials acknowledged Baradar's capture was becoming widely known in the region.
Word of Baradar's capture came as U.S. Marine and Afghan units pressed deeper into the Taliban haven of Marjah in southern Afghanistan, facing sporadic rocket and mortar fire as they moved through suspected insurgent neighborhoods on the third day of a NATO offensive to reclaim the town.
Two NATO servicemembers died Monday from bomb strikes in Helmand, but neither was part of the Marjah offensive, military spokesman Sgt. Kevin Bell said. NATO did not provide their nationalities.
Also on Monday, NATO said five civilians were accidentally killed and two wounded by an airstrike when they were mistakenly believed to have been planting roadside bombs in Kandahar province, east of the Marjah offensive.
The airstrike happened one day after 12 people, half of them children, were killed by two U.S. missiles that struck a house on the outskirts of Marjah. Afghan officials said Monday that three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.
On the third day of the main attack on Marjah, Afghan commanders spoke optimistically Monday about progress in the town of about 80,000 people, the linchpin of the Taliban logistical and opium poppy smuggling network in the militant-influenced south.