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U.S. transfers custody of detained Taliban chief to Pakistan

Latif Mehsud was a senior commander in the Pakistani Taliban, which took credit for the failed attempt to bomb New York's Times Square in 2010.

By
Fred Lambert
A U.S. service member walks along a road at the main U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on September 12, 2009. Latif Mehsud, a senior figure in the Pakistani Taliban, was held here since he was captured in Oct. 2013. He was reportedly released into custody of the Pakistani government earlier this week. File photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI
A U.S. service member walks along a road at the main U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul, Afghanistan on September 12, 2009. Latif Mehsud, a senior figure in the Pakistani Taliban, was held here since he was captured in Oct. 2013. He was reportedly released into custody of the Pakistani government earlier this week. File photo by Mohammad Kheirkhah/UPI | License Photo

ISLAMABAD, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. military transferred custody of an imprisoned senior commander in the Pakistani Taliban to the government of Pakistan, according to officials.

Latif Mehsud had been detained at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan since his capture in Oct. 2013. He was second-in-command to the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2013.

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The U.S. military recently confirmed the transfer of three Pakistani nationals to the Islamabad government but declined to provide identities. Pakistani officials told the BBC that Latif Mehsud had been "released" and indicated he was secretly flown into Pakistan earlier this week.

The TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, has since 2007 been at war with the Islamabad government, but both sides have engaged in talks since February. The militant group has been tied to attacks on U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as civilian targets in the United States.

"TTP claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Times Square in 2010 and has vowed to attack the U.S. homeland again," Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said last year. "TPP is also responsible for attacking our diplomats in Pakistan and attacks that have killed countless Pakistani civilians."

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Mehsud's capture by U.S. and Afghan forces last year reportedly angered then-President Hamid Karzai, who condemned NATO and U.S. attacks as a violation of Afghan sovereignty.

The U.S. military released a statement saying it takes into account a multitude of elements when deciding to transfer a detainee, such as the "totality of relevant factors relating to the individual and the government that may receive him, including but not limited to any diplomatic assurances that have been provided."

BBC correspondents say the transfer of a senior commander such as Mehsud is unusual and could signal efforts to improve soured relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, though U.S. officials said the Afghan government was not involved in the transfer.

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