February 17, 2010

What "Fortune" Led to the Capture of Taliban #2?

We've speculated about this behind the scenes and hinted at it here, but I pointed this out to AllahP yesterday and he makes note of it today. It's worth another post because this LA Times piece seems to confirm -- or, at least, give some credence to -- our earlier speculation that the capture of an al Qaeda courier might have inadvertently given Mullah Baradar's location away.

Here's the key background information about the capture of Abdullah Saleh al-Eidan in Oman, alleged to be an al Qaeda "field commander" on his way from the Afghanistan/Pakistan arena to Yemen:

Even more noteworthy, the [online] postings -written by a fellow Al Qaeda "brother" - reported that Al Eidan had with him 300 "important phone numbers" as well as pictures, names and documents from Afghanistan.

"The brother requested that this information reach the commanders in Yemen and Afghanistan as soon as possible," read one of the postings, which appeared on a web forum known as Fallujah Islamic Forum. "He also asked the commanders to change their places of residence and mobile phone numbers as soon as possible."

As I noted at the time, it seemed odd that al Qaeda would choose to use their well known semi-official website to transmit the message that top members should abort their phone numbers and move ASAP. At the time it seemed important in confirming that al Qaeda's online brigades were directly connected to those engaged in actual operations, and that they use the forum as a medium of communications.

But in light of this brought to us via AllahP? Well, it seems that it might have been connected to even bigger news:

U.S. and Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the capture of Baradar was driven by a rare intelligence break that enabled American spy agencies to pinpoint the Taliban military chief and help Pakistan's intelligence service organize on short notice a daring operation to arrest him.....

Officials provided few specifics Tuesday on the nature of the intelligence that led to the capture. U.S. spy agencies have been tracking Baradar's communications and activity closely since December, officials said, but even so, the intelligence that enabled the raid in Karachi involved an unexpected break. "Fortune played a role," one U.S. official said.

Were the two events connected? It's certainly in the realm of the possible. And if you'll recall the NY Times was asked by the White House to keep a lid on the story -- and did this time -- for fear that other bigwhigs might bug out of town once they learned that Baradar was in custody. That is, they kept a lid on it until ..... the day after Evan Kohlmann noticed that al Qaeda was warning every one that their phone numbers and locations may have been compromised.

Coincidence? Maybe. But I question the timing.

Also, to address AllahP's concern about why the capture of an al Qaeda courier would compromise the location of the Taliban's top operational commander? It's simple: the distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda is superficial, at best.

I know it is in vogue now in the White House and has been in certain circles foe much longer than that to try to distinguish between the two groups, but at a practical level there really is no distinction. Sure, there are different command structures and what not, but bin Laden has always coordinated with Mullah Omar and vice versa. The level of distinction between the two groups may be real, but is at the level where only organizational theorists would be interested.

To think otherwise is to believe that which is convenient for convenience sake -- that while al Qaeda can't be talked to we can end the war with the Taliban at the negotiations table.

If my little hypothesis is true, one can only hope that we had enough resources on the ground and the Pakistanis willing to cooperate at a minimal level (something they seem capable of every third Tuesday, or so) that we actually find, capture, or kill some other big whigs. Mullah Omar or Ayman al Zawahiri would be nice. Alas, it is too much to hope that Osama bin Laden's location was in the courier's files. I presume no one knows where he can be found. Not even his second in command.

UPDATE: Even as I was writing this Howie brings us news of a second top Taliban commander caught at about the same time as Mullah Baradar. More evidence?

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 03:02 PM | Comments |