US hands over top Taliban leader to Pakistan

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Islamabad, Dec 7 (IANS): The US has handed over three Pakistani detainees to Pakistan, including Latifullah Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban leader, according to US and Pakistani authorities.

“We can confirm that the United States repatriated three Pakistanis held in US custody in Afghanistan following consultations between the United Sates and Pakistan and after receiving appropriate assurances regarding humane treatment,” a spokesperson with the US embassy in Islamabad said in a statement, Xinhua reported.

The spokesperson, however, did not identify the Taliban leader. “We cannot comment on the identity of the detainees.”

But two Pakistani officials, who requested not to be identified, confirmed the handover of Latifullah and two other Taliban.

“The United States maintains a facility for the secure and humane care, custody, and control of third-country nationals in accordance with U.S. and international humanitarian law,” the embassy statement said.

Pakistani official sources were earlier quoted as saying that the Afghan authorities handed over Latifullah and two other Taliban operatives Saturday.

Latifullah had served as the deputy to Hakimullah Mehsood, chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, until his arrest in Afghanistan last year.

Hakimullah, who was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan in November last year, had appointed Latifullah as his deputy.

The Afghan media quoted Afghanistan’s presidential spokesperson, Nazeefullah Salarzai, as saying that Latifullah was not in the custody of the Afghan government. He said the Afghan authorities had no knowledge of the handover.

Last year in October, Afghan authorities said that the US military snatched the Taliban leader from Afghan intelligence agents. Latifullah was believed to be in contact with the Afghan intelligence.

The US State Department had later confirmed that the US had captured Latifullah after Afghan officials claimed that he had been seized as he drove in a government convoy in eastern Afghanistan.