NATO-led troops and Afghan forces detained a prominent Taliban commander, the alliance said Wednesday, while the Taliban confirmed the arrest of one of its spokesmen.
The commander was the leader of the insurgents in Panjwayi district of neighboring Kandahar province, where last summer NATO troops waged their biggest ground offensive in the Western alliance’s history, said NATO spokesman Squadron Leader Dave Marsh.
“This seizure of a Taliban commander, once again shows that there is nowhere to hide for insurgent leaders,” Marsh said.
The captured militant, whom NATO did not identify, had fled another recent offensive by Afghan and NATO forces in the south of the country, is wanted for questioning by Afghan security forces, NATO said.
He was captured in the Gereshk district of Helmand province late Tuesday and is the first Taliban leader captured by NATO-led and Afghan troops, NATO said.
The raid came a day after Afghan agents arrested Mohammad Hanif, a purported Taliban spokesman, near the border with Pakistan.
Hanif, one of two spokesmen who often contacts journalists on behalf of the militia, was arrested at the border town of Torkham on Monday after crossing from Pakistan, said Sayed Ansari, the spokesman for Afghanistan’s intelligence service. Two people traveling with him also were detained, he said.
But Noor Agha Zooak, a spokesman for the governor of the Nangarhar province where the arrest took place, said Wednesday that Hanif and his two associates, Asadullah and Tavab Nijazi, were detained in a raid at a house further from the border crossing.
It was not immediately clear what caused the discrepancy in the accounts.
Zooak said Hanif was being questioned by intelligence agents in Nangarhar’s capital, Jalalabad.
The troops recovered weapons, cell phones and other documents, which they showed to journalists in Jalalabad on Wednesday.
Hanif used to convey alleged statements from Taliban leader Mullah Omar and comment on fighting in the north, center and east of the country.
Another purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, confirmed Hanif’s arrest in a phone call from an undisclosed location, but said that the Taliban’s governing body already has appointed a new spokesman, Zadiullah Mujahid.
Recent NATO successes
Western and Afghan officials have claimed a number of recent successes against Taliban leaders.
Last month, a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, a key associate of Omar and the highest-ranking Taliban leader killed by the U.S.-led coalition since the late 2001 invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the hardline regime for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Over the past year, the Taliban have launched a record number of attacks, and some 4,000 people have died in the insurgency-related violence, according to a tally by The Associated Press based on reports from Afghan, NATO and coalition officials.