Afghans tried to court Pakistani militant seized by U.S.

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. apprehension of a Pakistani Taliban commander last month came during a failed attempt by Afghan officials to form an alliance with his militant group, a Western official said on Tuesday, confirming some details in a New York Times report.

The United States this month confirmed the arrest of Latif Mehsud, a trusted deputy to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, during a military operation that heightened tensions with the Western-backed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Times reported on Tuesday that the United States staged the operation to seize Mehsud after being tipped off about the plan by Afghan intelligence officials to try to work with the Pakistani Taliban and later use that as leverage against Pakistan.

It quoted two Afghan officials saying that they had struck a tentative deal with Mehsud: Afghanistan would not harass Pakistani Taliban fighters along the border if they did not attack Afghan forces.

"Publicly, the Afghan government has described Mr. Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary. But according to Afghan officials, the ultimate plan was to take revenge against the Pakistani military," the Times wrote.

The Afghan embassy in Washington declined comment.

The Afghan government and the United States accuse Pakistani intelligence services of ties to militant groups fighting across the border in Afghanistan.

Asked about the Times report, a Western official, speaking on condition of anonymity, broadly confirmed Afghan efforts to form an alliance with the group but did not provide further details.

Karzai called the U.S. capture a violation of Afghan sovereignty and public disclosure of the incident comes as Afghanistan considers whether to approve a security pact with the United States to keep U.S. troops in the country once NATO wraps up its combat mission at the end of 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban, is believed to have trained Pakistani-American Faisal Shahzad in bomb-making techniques and funded his plot to detonate a car bomb in New York's Times Square in 2010. The device failed to explode and was defused by a bomb squad. The TTP seeks to topple Pakistan's government.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart. Editing by Warren Strobel and Christopher Wilson)

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