Taliban Bolstered by U.S. Release of 5 Top Terrorists from Gitmo
Sgt. Bergdahl was captured on June 30, 2009 and moved to Pakistan. He was held by the Haqqani Network, a group linked to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. It has been listed by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization since September 2012. The Pakistani Taliban has been designated since 2010.
This means that the U.S. did negotiate with terrorists, even though official U.S. policy is not to do so. The State Department reiterated this position in January 2013 when it was asked about releasing the “Blind Sheikh,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is in prison for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The response was, “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
Terrorists around the world now know that is nothing but bravado. The Taliban didn’t have to pay a cost or make a major policy concession, like severing links with Al-Qaeda or agreeing to a ceasefire. If you want your captives back, kidnap Americans and be patient. That’s the lesson.
Look no further than Hamas’ kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. He was released in 2011 in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian terrorist prisoners. Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood parents told the world what they learned. The Brotherhood say it “confirmed the success of the ‘resistance option,’” meaning terrorism.
“The deal also proved that Israel only understands the language of force and resistance,” the Brotherhood proclaimed.
One key difference between the Shalit and Bergdahl situations is that the Israeli government defended its swap by saying the released terrorists were now thought to be of low risk. On the other hand, internal U.S. government documents identify all five Taliban leaders as high risk and likely to threaten the U.S. if released.
The Taliban obviously sees high value in these leaders, as they’ve sought their release since negotiations began in November 2010. A look at their biographies explains why.
Mohammed Fazl, captured in November 2001, is listed in a U.S. government file as a high-risk detainee.
He was the Taliban’s Army Chief of Staff, Deputy Minister of Defense, and commander of the 22nd Division. According to the U.N., he massacred thousands of Shiites in 2000-2001. He is also associated with Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups.
“If released, detainee would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with ACM [Anti-Coalition Militias] elements participating in hostilities against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan,” the Department of Defense document concludes.
Khairullah Khairkhwa, captured in Pakistan in 2002, is listed in a U.S. government file as a high-risk detainee because he is “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
He was the Taliban Interior Minister, Governor of Herat and a military commander. Khairkhwa was “directly associated” with Osama Bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar and arranged Iranian support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan after 9/11. He also had associations with Hamas.
Mohammad Nabi, captured in 2002, is also listed in a U.S. government file as a high-risk detainee because he is “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
He was the Taliban’s chief of communications and a security chief and had “strong operational ties” to Al-Qaeda. He also belonged to a joint Taliban/Al-Qaeda cell in Afghanistan. Nabi is also a major fundraiser for the Taliban.
Abdul Haq Wasiq, captured in November 2001, is likewise listed in a U.S. government file as a high-risk detainee because he is “likely to pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies.”
He was the Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Intelligence and was “central” to the Taliban’s alliances with terrorists like Al-Qaeda after 9/11. He oversaw the training of Taliban operatives by Al-Qaeda and helped Al-Qaeda operatives escape coalition forces. CNN reports that a U.S. government source described him as an “Al-Qaeda intelligence member.”
Mullah Norullah Noori, captured in November 2001, is similarly listed in a U.S. government file as a high-risk detainee because of the threat he poses to the U.S.
Noori was a senior Taliban commander with connections to senior Al-Qaeda operatives. He, like Fazl, is sought by the U.N. for massacring thousands of Shiites in 2000-2001. His brother is a Taliban commander, and Noori “continues to be significant to Taliban supporters in northern Afghanistan.”
All five Taliban leaders held senior positions, are considered “high risk” and worked with Al-Qaeda. The American public would likely not accept negotiations with Al-Qaeda, but the U.S. is negotiating with Al-Qaeda associates. The difference between these associates and “official” Al-Qaeda members is paper-think.
If Sgt. Bergdahl were the last remaining American soldier in Afghanistan, the prisoner swap would stand on stronger ground but 32,800 other U.S. soldiers remain. Even after the end of combat operations at the end of this year, almost 10,000 will remain in 2015. The release of the Taliban leaders puts their lives in greater danger.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.