More Taliban leaders have been captured in Pakistan following the arrest of the group’s deputy leader.
The roundups came as 15,000 US, Nato and Afghan forces pressed the Taliban in their southern Afghan stronghold of Marjah, which had been the biggest town in the area under militant control.
Nine men linked to al-Qaida were seized near Pakistan’s biggest city of Karachi, where the Taliban’s deputy chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was picked up several days ago.
Others caught in the recent sweeps included the Taliban’s ’shadow’ governors in two provinces in northern Afghanistan.
Communications intercepted by US authorities played a key role in tracking and arresting the suspects, who were in Karachi buying bomb-making equipment.
Many details of the arrests were unclear, including how they were linked to the capture of Mullah Baradar, who effectively ran the Taliban on a day-to-day basis on behalf of the reclusive leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
But a Pakistani intelligence official said Mullah Baradar has provided “useful” information that has led to the arrests of other suspected militants. The official said Mullah Baradar was travelling in a car on the outskirts of Karachi when he was taken along with three of his guards. He said Mullah Baradar was picked up with help from the CIA.
Pakistan security agencies conducted three different raids overnight in Karachi and arrested nine more suspects including three foreigners.
Among those arrested in the three Karachi area raids were:
::Ameer Muawiya, an associate of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden who was in charge of foreign al-Qaida militants operating in Pakistan’s tribal regions near Afghanistan.
::Akhunzada Popalzai, also known as Mohammad Younis, a former Taliban shadow governor in Zabul province and former police chief in Kabul when the repressive regime ruled Afghanistan.
::Hamza, who served as a former Afghan army commander in Helmand province, during the Taliban rule.
::Abu Riyan al Zarqawi, also known as Abu Musa, and his local facilitator, Mufti Kifayatullah.
The two Taliban shadow governors – Mullah Abdul Salam of Kunduz province and Mullah Mohammad in Baghlan province – were arrested about 10 to 12 days ago in Pakistan.
Both were key figures in the Taliban’s expansion to northern Afghanistan, where their forces threatened Nato supply lines coming south from Central Asia and raised alarm that the militants were extending their influence nationwide.