Significant catch

Three senior Taliban officials were captured in Pakistan this month, including Mullah Brader. His capture has been viewed as an intelligence coup and a sign of greater Pakistani co-operation in fighting Afghan fighters.

MullaH Brader
  Born in Dehrawood district of Uruzgan province, in 1968
  Number two to Taliban founder Mullah Omar
  In charge of Taliban's military operations and financial affairs
  Former defence minister for the Taliban
  Newsweek: profile
  Newsweek: interview

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Some analysts say Mullah Brader could help reconciliation between the Taliban and Karzai's government, despite his background as a fierce military commander and advocate of suicide bombings.

The Afghan announcement comes as Karzai reaches out to Taliban foot soldiers with offers of jobs, money and land in the hope they will lay down their weapons and accept his government's authority.

The Taliban, who have made a steady comeback since being ousted by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, are under pressure in Afghanistan and increasingly so in Pakistan, where they enjoy sanctuary.

Alongside Afghan troops, US and Nato forces are pushing ahead with one of its largest assaults in Afghanistan since the start of the war, aimed at driving the Taliban from their last big stronghold in the country's most violent province to make way for Afghan authorities to take over.

On Thursday, Afghan authorities raised the Afghan flag over Marjah, the town at the centre of the offensive, to signify the handover of control to the government from Nato troops.