We are seeing again how difficult it is to tell what the intentions and loyalties of the Pakistani Intel agency (ISI) and military are. Eli Lake is reporting about complaints from our intel folks about the info they are getting from interrogating Mullah Baradar, theTaliban's #2 and former operational commander.
Senior U.S. intelligence officials in the last week told The Washington Times that recent interrogation sessions with Mullah Baradar yielded very little actionable intelligence. Instead the sessions provided "atmospheric intelligence" that is of limited value, such as the history of the Pashtun tribal regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Mullah Baradar, a key operational commander, is believed to know a wide range of information on the insurgency, from the Afghan Taliban's funding network to the identities of sleeper cells, agents and financiers in Europe and the west.
"He is talking about the general dynamics of the tribes," said a senior U.S. intelligence official in a position to know. "But he is not giving us anything on the locations of senior Taliban officials. He is not telling us about bank accounts; he is not talking about the donor support base; what the Taliban's capabilities are; or who in the [Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence service] the Taliban is working with."
The interesting point is that the Pakistanis had him in custody for months before they gave us any access to him.
The Pakistanis began providing regular access to Mr. Baradar in April, some four months after he was captured. A senior intelligence official said that it took two weeks after his capture before U.S. interrogators had the chance to pose direct questions to the Taliban deputy.
Officials said the delays may have been due in part to Pakistani ISI efforts to first confirm his identity after the capture. Nonetheless in February, the high court of Lahore ruled that Mullah Baradar may not be extradited to the United States.
At the time I speculated that his capture had been in response to his participation in talks about peace negotiations. He had been linked to Karzai's brother and some meetings he was organizing. Another possibility was just house cleaning by the ISI due to concerns about his loyalties or actions. They have considerable sway over the Taliban and could have simply decided he was causing problems. The question is how do his capture and the discussions they are apparently having w/ Mullah Omar tie together or point to their goals and strategies.
One of the problems is that there is no monolithic Pakistani position or plan. Although our over all strategy is the same, even we have different goals and disconnects between the agencies and departments fighting the war and gathering intel. The Pakistanis have that in spades. The ISI functions as a fairly independent operation only nominally controlled by the government, the military has the nukes and plenty of split allegiances, and the central government has little control outside the biggest cities and plenty of factions with their own agendas. So who are we actually dealing with?
Excellent question, and the answer is most of them. We try to find ways to partner with the elements of the Pakistani leadership and operating elements, but it is hardly one coherent plan or effort. Even in our dealings with the ISI we have separate relationships with different elements and we are never really certain who is doing what for what reason and with who's approval. Seriously it is a soup sandwich at best.
That makes it very tough for us know if we are being treated straight by those we work with. I think it is usually best to assume no. I think it is ridiculous to pretend that the Pakistanis didn't gain pretty much any intel they needed when they initially scarfed up Baradar, and there was an uptick in captures and Hellfirings earlier this year that it would be easy to attribute to him. After the time he spent with the Pakistanis before we got access to him, he would have been informed just exactly what he can tell us and it sounds like they said not much.
The surest way to tell someone who is clueless about the region is to hear them talking definitively about who our friends and enemies are. Are the Pakistanis our allies? Sure, some of them. And some of those are our enemies as well.
Video of a bit I did on Russia Today talking about Baradar's capture below the fold.