KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. confirmed on Friday that American troops are holding a senior Pakistani Taliban commander, a blow to the Pakistani Taliban who have waged a decade-long insurgency against Islamabad and were responsible for the failed 2010 attempt to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.
“Mehsud is a senior commander in TTP, and served as a trusted confident of the group’s leader, Hakimullah Mehsud,” Harf said. “TTP claimed responsibility, as folks probably know, for the attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010 and has vowed to attack the U.S. homeland again. TPP is also responsible for attacking our diplomats in Pakistan and attacks that have killed countless Pakistani civilians.”
The news surfaced as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Kabul trying to negotiate the terms of a U.S.-Afghan security agreement that would govern the activities of American forces in Afghanistan after the NATO-led combat mission ends at the close of next year.
Arsallah Jamal, governor of Logar province in eastern Afghanistan, said Mehsud was captured a week ago as he was driving along a main highway in Mohammad Agha district. The road links the province with the Afghan capital, Kabul. Jamal said Mehsud was in a car with two or three other men when the U.S. military arrested him.
He was returning from a meeting to discuss swapping Afghan prisoners for money, said Pakistani Taliban commanders and intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
The Pakistani intelligence officials said American forces seized Mehsud while he was with the Afghan army, and that they no longer know where he is.
The U.S. military in Kabul referred all questions to the Defense Department in Washington. A Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Elissa Smith, said the Pentagon had no comment on the report.
A U.S. defense official said Mehsud was being lawfully held by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. A senior U.S. official said the arrest did not please Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who apparently saw it as a violation of Afghan sovereignty. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the issue with the media.
A spokesman for Karzai told the Washington Post that a senior Taliban commander was captured in Logar as he was being driven to a facility operated by the intelligence service for questioning. The spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said the commander, whom he did not name, was then taken to an American detention facility in Bagram.
There was no immediate comment from Karzai’s office on the report.
The detention may have contributed to a series of emotional outbursts this week by Karzai, who alleged that the U.S. and NATO have inflicted suffering on the Afghan people and repeatedly have violated its sovereignty.