The United States have senior Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Latif Mehsud in custody after snatching him from Afghan intelligence operatives who had spent months trying to recruit him as an interlocutor for talks, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Latif, a senior deputy of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud, was seized by US personnel after they intercepted an Afghan government convoy in Logar province, the Post quoted Afghan officials as saying.
Afghan officials described their contact with Latif as one of the most significant operations conducted by their country’s security forces.
“After months of conversations, a top Taliban commander had agreed to meet with operatives of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS),” it quoted Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as saying. Faizi declined to identify Latif by name in the report.
“The Afghan officials were en route to an NDS facility, where they expected to start debriefing the Taliban leader when a US contingent stopped the vehicles,” Faizi said, adding that the Americans forcibly removed him and took him to Bagram.
TTP confirmed Latif was captured by Afghan forces initially.
Quoting sources in the TTP and Pakistani intelligence, Associated Press (AP) said the Taliban leader was arrested by Afghan army personnel at the Ghulam Khan border crossing in Khost province on October 5 as he was returning from a meeting to discuss swapping Afghan prisoners for money.
The Pakistani intelligence officials said American forces seized Latif while he was with the Afghan army, adding that they no longer knew where he was.
Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the CIA declined to comment on the Afghan account of Latif’s detention, which had not been disclosed publicly. According to Washington Post, two US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that Latif is in US custody, but declined to provide details.
Although he has not spoken out publicly about Latif’s arrest, the Taliban leader’s capture by US forces has reportedly enraged President Hamid Karzai.
There were reports that talks on a bilateral security agreement, which have been ongoing in the past two weeks, were delayed because of the incident. American and Afghan officials have been meeting in recent days to negotiate the final details of the deal.
The move may have also contributed to his emotional outbursts earlier this week alleging that the US and Nato forces inflicted suffering on the Afghan people and repeatedly violated the country’s sovereignty.
“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.
Latif Mehsud, believed to be around 30 years-old, once served as Hakimullah’s driver but eventually worked his way up the ranks to become a trusted deputy. Taliban fighters who spoke to Washington Post on the condition of anonymity said he had recently been serving as the right-hand man for the TTP chief.
Latif also has become an increasingly influential commander, acting as an intermediary between cells of TTP fighters along the border and the group’s reclusive leader. Hakimullah is thought to be in hiding, fearful of a drone strike like the one that reportedly killed his deputy in May.
TTP’s ranks have been decimated in recent years by the CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2013.