Capture of Taliban Leader "A Significant Win," White House Says
By Stephen Kaufman
Washington - The Obama administration confirmed reports that the Pakistani government has Afghan Taliban military commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in custody, saying the capture of the movement's number two leader is a big success for U.S. and Pakistani cooperation against violent extremism in the South Asia region.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters February 17 that Pakistan recognizes extremists within its borders pose "an existential threat" to their country.
"They have been working productively and cooperatively for more than a year now in assisting international efforts and cooperating in an effort to rid that area of violent extremists," Gibbs said, adding that the capture of Mullah Baradar is "a significant win."
At the same time, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry told President Obama that Afghan-led operations in Helmand province are going well, Gibbs said.
Operation Moshtarak, a Dari word which means "together," was "highly planned and orchestrated," Gibbs said, and is being conducted in close coordination with local Afghan authorities. Extra caution is being paid to prevent civilian casualties, and Gibbs added that many individuals with the Taliban have decided to leave their former stronghold in the town of Marjah.
"Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal lauded not just the size of this offensive but that for the first time, Afghan national security forces were in the lead," Gibbs said. Troops from the multinational International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are fighting alongside the Afghan forces "at a scale not seen at any point in our involvement in Afghanistan, dating back to the beginning of the war" in 2001, Gibbs said.
According to a February 17 news release by ISAF, the military phase of Operation Moshtarak "remains on track" as of February 16.
"The insurgents are tactically adept, have resilience and are cunning, so continued tactical patience on the part of the combined force is important. Mining is significant in areas, and the combined force must be very deliberate in its movement in order to minimize local Afghan and combined force casualties," the news release stated.
The campaign includes ISAF forces from the United Kingdom, the United States, Denmark and Estonia, who are operating in support of the Afghan security and police forces.
"On the ground, the conduct of Operation Moshtarak is visibly demonstrating that the force has changed the way it operates and that it is working with and for the people of Afghanistan," the news release said.
The goal of Operation Moshtarak is for the combined Afghan and international forces to "support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in asserting its authority in central Helmand, thereby demonstrating the Afghan government's commitment to the people living there," according to the news release.
"The operation is being conducted at the request of the Afghan government and the governor of Helmand. The security forces involved are serving side-by-side, representing partnership in strength," the news release said.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said February 17 that civilian forces are also involved in a support role to help the Afghan government "deliver governance and stability to the area immediately after the security operations."
"They're standing by to deploy immediately after Marjah's cleared," Toner said. "Civilians will form a district support team consisting of two State Department governance advisers, one [U.S. Agency for International Development] expert and a British stabilization adviser."
Their effort is part of a larger strategy to build long-term stability. "If you simply provide security without bringing in the governance and development and assistance, it's to no avail. So we've really got to make that happen very quickly," Toner said.
According to a February 15 U.K. Ministry of Defense news article, traditional meetings, known as shuras, have been taking place between local residents and the Afghan national army as areas have been captured from Taliban control. The article said that after the "clearing phase" of operations is completed, the Afghan government and its international partners are establishing civil authority and amenities such as schools and hospitals to improve local conditions.
In addition, "Cash for Work" projects have been identified to provide local employment opportunities, and recruiting efforts will begin "straight away," the article said.
British Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth was quoted in the article as saying that now begins "the most important phase of the operation," which he said is "winning over the hearts and minds of the people of Nad 'Ali and Marjah so that they don't tolerate the Taliban in their midst, so that they are not intimidated by them and so the insurgency cannot re-establish itself in the area."
British Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was quoted in the article as saying, "Time is a very important factor," with the local population needing to see quickly that the Afghan government will be staying and providing them with adequate security, support and services.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)