The United States recently seized a senior Pakistani Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan, snatching him from the custody of Afghan intelligence operatives who had spent months trying to recruit him as an interlocutor for peace talks, Afghan government officials charged Thursday.
Latif Mehsud, an influential commander in the Pakistani Taliban, was taken into custody by U.S. personnel, who intercepted an Afghan government convoy in Logar province, Afghan officials said.
The dramatic capture enraged Afghan President Hamid Karzai and is a new irritant in already-
contentious negotiations for the terms under which a U.S.-led military coalition would remain in Afghanistan after the formal end of combat operations next year.
Afghan officials described their contact with Mehsud, thought to be about 30, as one of the most significant operations conducted by their country’s security forces. After months of conversations, the Taliban leader had agreed to meet with operatives of Afghanistan’s main spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, said Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Karzai, who declined to identify Mehsud by name, referring to him only as a top Taliban commander.
The Afghan officials were en route to an NDS facility, where they expected to start debriefing Mehsud, when a U.S. contingent stopped the vehicles, Faizi said.
“The Americans forcibly removed him and took him to Bagram,” said the spokesman, referring to the military base that includes a detention facility where the United States continues to hold more than 60 non-
Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the CIA declined to comment on the Afghan account of Mehsud’s detention, which had not been disclosed publicly. Two American officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that Mehsud is in U.S. custody, but they declined to provide details.
Karzai has not spoken out publicly about the arrest, but he has been strident in his criticism of the U.S.-led war, which this week entered its 13th year.
“On the security front, the entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, and no gains because the country is not secure,” the Afghan president told the BBC in an interview this week.
Mehsud quickly rose through the ranks of an organization decimated in recent years by the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Taliban fighters who spoke on the condition of anonymity said he has recently been serving as the right-hand man for Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Pakistani Taliban.
Latif Mehsud also has become an increasingly influential commander, acting as an intermediary between cells of Taliban fighters along the border and the group’s reclusive leader. Hakimullah Mehsud is thought to be in hiding, fearful of a drone strike like the one that reportedly killed his deputy in May.
Sieff reported from Kabul. Karen DeYoung in Washington and Tim Craig and Saleem Mehsud in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.