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Joint raid captures Taliban’s
top commander

WASHINGTON —The Taliban’s top military commander was captured several days ago in Karachi, Pakistan, in a secret joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces, according to U.S. government officials.

The commander, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, is an Afghan described by U.S. officials as the most significant Taliban figure to be detained since the American-led war in Afghanistan started more than eight years ago. He ranks second in influence only to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban’s founder and a close associate of Osama bin Laden before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Baradar has been in Pakistani custody for several days, with U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials interrogating him, according to officials.

It was unclear whether he was talking, but the officials said his capture could lead to other senior officials. Most immediately, they hope he will provide the whereabouts of Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the group’s spiritual leader.

Disclosure of Baradar’s capture came while U.S. and Afghan forces were in the midst of a major offensive in southern Afghanistan.

His capture could cripple the Taliban’s military operations, at least in the short term, said Bruce O. Riedel, a CIA veteran who last spring led the Obama administration’s Afghanistan and Pakistan policy review.

Drug firms apply brand
to generics

Some prestigious brand-name pharmaceutical companies that once looked askance at the high-volume, low-cost business of generic drugs are now becoming major purveyors of generic medicines.

Just don’t call them no-name drugs.

Giants like Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline are not looking to enter the commodity generics market in the United States, where chain pharmacies often determine which generics they offer based on the lowest available price — and where consumers often view generic makers as interchangeable.

Instead, the big drugmakers are pursuing a growing consumer base in emerging markets like Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America where many people pay out of pocket for their medicines but often cannot afford expensive brand-name drugs.

And, in some emerging markets, where the fear of counterfeit drugs or low-quality medicines runs high, consumers who can afford it are willing to pay a premium for generics from well-known makers, industry analysts said. These products are known as company-branded generics, or branded generics. They carry the name of a trusted local or foreign drugmaker stamped on the package, seen as a sign of authenticity and quality control.

Excise tax loses support amid White House push

WASHINGTON —An agreement to tax high-cost, employer-sponsored health insurance plans, announced with fanfare by the White House and labor unions last month, is losing support from labor leaders, who say the proposal is too high a price to pay for the limited health care package they expect to emerge from Congress.

But the White House is still urging Congress to adopt the excise tax as a way to help pay for President Barack Obama’s ambitious health care proposals.

With support for the tax eroding, congressional leaders are searching for alternative sources of revenue.

The search has some urgency because Obama has said he hopes House and Senate Democrats can resolve their differences and come up with a final version of the legislation before he convenes a bipartisan meeting on the issue on Feb. 25.