Four of the five Taliban members released from Guantanamo Bay by the Obama administration in a prisoner trade for Bowe Bergdahl are now part of the Taliban’s hardline government in Afghanistan, according to local reports.
“The four members of the so-called ‘Taliban Five’ who have joined the new government are Acting Director of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, Acting Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs Norullah Noori, Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Fazl, and Acting Minister of Information and Culture Khairullah Khairkhah,” the New York Post noted Wednesday. “The fifth member of the Taliban Five, Mohammad Nabi Omari, was appointed governor of eastern Khost province last month.”
“Wasiq, Fazl and Khairkhah all held positions in the former Taliban government,” the Post noted, which is why the three ended up on GitMo. “Wasiq as a deputy intelligence chief, Fazl as army chief of staff and Khairkhah as interior minister.”
Wasiq “utilized his office to support [al Qaeda] and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture,” the outlet noted, citing an intelligence report from early on in the Afghan War. He “was central to the Taliban’s efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S. and Coalition forces.” Fazl was accused of establishing “operational associations” between the Taliban and “significant al Qaeda and other extremist personnel.”
Khairkhah, one of Afghanistan’s “major opium drug lords,” was accused of trying to establish communication between the Taliban and the Iranians, who were reportedly interested in supporting attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.
On Tuesday, The Daily Wire reported that one of the FBI’s most wanted alleged terrorists, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the Taliban- and al Qaeda-aligned Haqqani network and a State Department “specially designated global terrorist,” was named Afghanistan’s interior minister.
Bergdahl, Military Times noted, “abandoned his post in June 2009 on a deployment to Paktika province, Afghanistan,” and “was subsequently captured by the Taliban and held as a prisoner of war for nearly five years.” The Obama administration orchestrated a prisoner exchange and selected the five Taliban leaders to swap for Bergdahl, even though an assessment recommended the four remain in Guantanamo Bay.
Then-president Barack Obama defended the exchange by noting that the United States “does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.” Despite his warm White House welcome, though, Military Times reported that Bergdahl “ultimately pleaded guilty at court-martial to desertion and misbehavior, and was sentenced in Nov. 2017 to a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the grade of private, and forfeiture of $1,000 in salary per month for ten months.”
The Obama administration was not alone in agreeing to release Taliban prisoners. The Trump administration made a prisoner-swap deal part of its proposed withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, inked last year.
The Biden administration’s State Department noted Wednesday that it was “concerned” with the announcement of Afghanistan’s Taliban “caretaker” government but suggested that it was more deeply worried about the government’s lack of diversity than members’ affiliations with terrorism.
“We have seen the announcement and are assessing it,” a spokesperson said. “We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women. We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals.”
“We understand that the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet. However, we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words. We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government,” the State Department spokesperson added. “We will continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments to allow safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans with travel documents, including permitting flights currently ready to fly out of Afghanistan to agreed-upon onward destinations. We also reiterate our clear expectation that the Taliban ensure that Afghan soil is not used to threaten any other countries and allow humanitarian access in support of the Afghan people. The world is watching closely.”
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