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Mullah Baradar Talking—But Not Saying Much

The recently captured deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Abdel Ghani Baradar, is now talking to Pakistani and American interrogators—a little. But three U.S. national-security officials familiar with the situation, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that Baradar is not saying much, at least so far. One of the officials also said Pakistani authorities are tightly controlling the circumstances under which U.S. personnel are allowed access to the man who, until his capture earlier this month, was the Afghan Taliban's most-senior military commander.

One current and one former U.S. national-security official said that Baradar is believed to have been a key Taliban contact for the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan's principal intelligence agency, before 9/11. Consequently, the officials said, at least some Pakistani officials might be nervous about giving U.S. personnel unrestricted access to the captured mullah, for fear that he might spill secrets that could embarrass his captors. (The Pakistani Embassy has not responded to two requests for comment by Declassified.)  

Baradar was picked up by Pakistani authorities following a U.S. intelligence tip about a planned meeting of some of Baradar's associates, according to a current U.S. official. (Baradar's presence at the meeting was a lucky break.) "It took a while to identify Baradar," said the U.S. official. "Remember, the Pakistanis caught him, and, in their country, they call the shots." The official added, "It was never a complete shutout, and we've had direct access to Baradar for some time now . . . Everybody knows Pakistan's history with the Afghan Taliban, yet they're the ones taking down the shadow governors and commanders. That's positive, no matter how you slice it." Another U.S. official said the Pakistanis held Baradar for more than a week without giving American interrogators access.

Some U.S. officials contacted by Declassified downplayed suggestions in a recent Los Angeles Times report that the U.S. was becoming so frustrated by the slow pace of Baradar's interrogation that the CIA is now pressing for the Taliban leader to be turned over to American authorities, who would then move him to a prison run by U.S. forces in Bagram, Afghanistan. The L.A. Times said the CIA had been denied direct access to Baradar for two weeks, that Pakistani interrogators were controlling interrogations, and that Baradar had given up little information on the whereabouts of other Taliban chiefs. CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano would only say: "This agency works closely and effectively with a host of foreign partners."

The bottom line, according to one of the U.S. officials: "Baradar is talking, but, given his past, you'd expect him to be a rather slippery customer. Everybody involved in his debriefing understands that. The Pakistanis caught him, he's their prisoner, and it's a little early to be discussing his ultimate fate. The key victory was getting him off the battlefield."    

U.S. officials don't rule out the possibility, given Baradar's Afghan nationality, that he could eventually be transferred to Afghanistan. But the officials who spoke with Declassified said suggestions such a move might be imminent, or even foreseeable, are premature. 

Two of the U.S. officials said that an interagency unit called the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), which the Obama administration is creating to question important terrorist suspects, had been at least partially assembled and put into operation, but they said it is not involved in this case, at least for now.

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