Another leader of the Afghan Taliban has been captured by authorities in Pakistan working in partnership with U.S. intelligence officials. Taliban sources in the region and a counterterrorism officials in Washington have identified the detained insurgent leader as Mullah Abdul Salam, described as the Taliban movement's "shadow governor" of Afghanistan's Kunduz province.
Taliban sources told NEWSWEEK's Sami Yousafzai that Salam was grabbed by Pakistani security forces in the city of Faisalabad about a week ago—close to the same time that Pakistani forces, again with American support, captured the Afghan Taliban's No. 2 leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Karachi. The Taliban sources said that Mullah Salam was arrested with three other militants.
According to the Taliban sources, at the time of his capture Mullah Salam was preparing to travel to meet Mullah Baradar. Some sources suggested that the arrests of the two insurgent leaders might be linked, though this could not be confirmed in Washington.
Mullah Salam was one of the Taliban's most effective commanders in northern Afghanistan and therefore one of the men most wanted by U.S. and NATO forces fighting there. Salam's soldiers are reputed to have been particularly deadly in their attacks on German troops fighting in northern Afghanistan.
A U.S. counterterrorism official confirmed to NEWSWEEK that Mullah Salam had been captured. "Thanks to solid intelligence work and some courageous partners in Pakistan, this hasn't been a good time for the leadership of the Afghan Taliban," said the official, who, like others cited in this story, asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information. "While these kinds of operations aren't the whole answer, you can't succeed against an enemy like this until you prove he can't win on the battlefield. Taking out [the] top guys is part of that."
Both the Afghan and Pakistani branches of the Taliban appear to have suffered significant leadership losses recently. Mullah Baradar's capture last week is regarded as a major breakthrough, although there are still questions about how much access U.S. officials will have to Mullah Baradar, who is being held by Pakistan. A source close to Pakistan's leadership indicated that Mullah Baradar is under the control of Pakistan's Interior Ministry, and noted that Pakistani authorities may not treat him gently.