Pakistan: Closing in on American al Qaeda Spokesman?

3 MINS READMar 7, 2010 | 21:46 GMT
AFP/Getty Images
Reports emerged March 7 that a U.S.-born spokesman for al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn, had been captured in Karachi by Pakistani security forces, the latest in a series of high-profile arrests by the Pakistani state. However, at the moment it is unclear whether Gadahn, of whom a video message had been released on the same day as reports of his capture, has in fact been taken into custody. Three Pakistani officials have now said specifically that Gadahn was not arrested, with one unnamed official telling AFP, "We thought it could have been a big catch, but it appeared it's not Gadahn," indicating that even elements within the Pakistani security apparatus believed Gadahn had been captured at one point. At the same time, an anonymous U.S. government official has confirmed to MSNBC that Gadahn has in fact been captured, and STRATFOR sources have said that the Pakistani Interior Ministry believes Gadahn has been captured. Part of the problem is that reports have cited the arrest of militant by the name of Abu Yahya, and Gadahn's nom de guerre in Arabic included "Yahya," which may have been partly responsible for the initial reports claiming his capture. While Gadahn may not have been arrested, the news comes on the heels of an impressive spate of arrests and deaths of Taliban commanders so far in 2010, and many of the operations — including the one initially believed to have targeted Gadahn — took place not in the rugged tribal areas, but in major cities. It is not yet clear whether these arrests have been the result of Pakistan finally pursuing Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda prime leadership in its own territory in earnest and close cooperation with the United States or simply the rapid analysis and redeployment of assets benefiting from actionable intelligence accrued from previous arrests (i.e. a "domino effect") or — worst of all for the Taliban and al Qaeda — both. Either way, the trend has become apparent, and the intelligence gleaned from these high-profile arrests is likely to be significant. Whether an intelligence breakthrough or Pakistani cooperation was responsible for the initial successes, they certainly have the potential to build on one another. And the senior leadership of targeted militant groups are certainly scrupulously examining their own operational security provisions and questioning the viability of current provisions and the fidelity of their compatriots — not to mention anxiously wondering what those leaders that have been captured may have revealed during interrogation. These moves by the Pakistani state come at a critical juncture for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and the wider region. The reason for Islamabad's increasingly assertive stand against militants that they have long been willing to tolerate — and sometimes even support, such as the Afghan Taliban — remains a matter of speculation. But Pakistan is certainly not conducting the operations against militants long the focus of U.S. concern as an act of charity, and the extent and durability of Islamabad's cooperation and what it has been promised or hopes to receive in return has yet to be established.

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