Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Baradar’s capture raises detention questions

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s putative No. 2 and organizer of military operations was captured several days ago at a madrassa near the Pakistani city of Karachi. U.S. and Pakistani intelligence operatives are interrogating him, according to the New York Times.   This is very good news. First and foremost, a deadly and effective enemy of ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's putative No. 2 and organizer of military operations was captured several days ago at a madrassa near the Pakistani city of Karachi. U.S. and Pakistani intelligence operatives are interrogating him, according to the New York Times.  

This is very good news. First and foremost, a deadly and effective enemy of the United States is no longer able to plan, coordinate, or carry out attacks against us.  

It will further isolate other senior leaders, such as Mullah Omar, and cause them to rely on less-trusted replacements. In the last three years, six of the nineteen members of the Taliban senior council have been killed. This is significant progress, and suggests that the United States is beginning to have the kind of intelligence, and the ability to use it to good effect, that will eventually grind down the Taliban.  

Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s putative No. 2 and organizer of military operations was captured several days ago at a madrassa near the Pakistani city of Karachi. U.S. and Pakistani intelligence operatives are interrogating him, according to the New York Times.  

This is very good news. First and foremost, a deadly and effective enemy of the United States is no longer able to plan, coordinate, or carry out attacks against us.  

It will further isolate other senior leaders, such as Mullah Omar, and cause them to rely on less-trusted replacements. In the last three years, six of the nineteen members of the Taliban senior council have been killed. This is significant progress, and suggests that the United States is beginning to have the kind of intelligence, and the ability to use it to good effect, that will eventually grind down the Taliban.  

The surge of NATO troops to Afghanistan, and particularly operations in the Taliban stronghold of Marjah will produce yet more intelligence, as Taliban light up communications networks, are forced to move and therefore can be tracked, their operations in the region are disrupted, their funding streams from drug trafficking reduced, and as Afghan, U.S., and British forces engaged in the fight reassure the population they will be subsequently secure.

Cooperation between Pakistan’s Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence and our CIA looks to have been extensive and beneficial. The BBC cites a senior Pakistani military officer describing the capture as "a joint operation between Pakistan and the United States based on shared intelligence." CIA agents evidently were along on the raid. Such intensive cooperation would be impossible without trust between the two spy agencies, and is difficult to build even among allies of long-standing. Given Pakistan’s understandable concern about American fickleness, the cooperation is extraordinary. Those who castigate the Pakistani government as not serious about the fight against the Taliban, or who believe the ISI are insubordinate to their government’s direction, will have a difficult time explaining this outcome.

While it is probably too much to hope a hardened terrorist such as Baradar would break and disclose the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar, just the fact of his capture will require significant disruption to Taliban activity as others attempt to shield themselves and their activities.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is now a detainee. And this is where the Obama administration’s difficulties begin. Baradar is an Afghan citizen captured in Pakistan by Pakistani and American clandestine operatives. He is evidently being interrogated jointly by Pakistan and the United States, and has information both strategic and time-sensitive about planned attacks and operations, identities and locations of leaders, funding sources and outlays, training tactics.

Is the administration permitting the Pakistani interrogators to employ harsh methods the administration has put off limits to American intelligence professionals? They are unlikely to feel bound by our definitions of harsh interrogation; but the presence of CIA agents would expose them to culpability by the standard Attorney General Holder set in retroactively investigating agents acting with supporting legal authority during the Bush administration.

Americans were involved in the capture; does permitting Pakistan’s ISI to have possession constitute a rendition? Is the administration confident the procedures applied to other terrorists, say, Christmas bomber Abdulmutallab, are adequate to attain the information that could save lives? Will the rules not apply because of the high value of this particular individual? Will he seek to have him extradited to the United States for trial? Will he get offered a deal in return for information? Does he fall into the acceptable 20 percent return to the fight rate for al Qaeda and Taliban that Special Assistant to the President John Brennan said we should not be concerned about last week?

My guess is that the Obama administration will try and treat the case of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as sui generis, keeping secret as much information as possible beyond the fact of his capture. But their every decision in the Baradar case will be a precedent and a proving ground for administration policies on detention, rendition, interrogation, and ultimately dispensation of captured terrorists. Vice President Biden’s argument from last Sunday’s talk shows came very close to claiming the Obama administration is doing little different than the Bush administration had in fighting terrorism. That’s unlikely to be a satisfying answer for many of the president’s supporters.

Kori Schake is the director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a former U.S. government official in foreign and security policy, and the author of America vs the West: Can the Liberal World Order Be Preserved? Twitter: @KoriSchake

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