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With all the attention surrounding the prisoner swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the “Taliban Five,” much has been speculated about the level of threat the released individuals pose to U.S. interests. Lawmakers and pundits from around the world have criticized the trade of a single U.S. military officer for five high ranking Taliban leaders, saying that the deal was “misguided,” “dangerous” and even went as far as “treacherous” in nature.
The militants themselves have been bestowed an almost Hollywood villian likeness, with Republicans dubbing the released prisoners the “Taliban Dream Team.” While all the speculation spins its way through the 24-hour media cycle, little to no information on exactly who the “Taliban Five” are has been brought into the conversation.
The DoD have released to the public full profiles on the five individuals released from U.S. custody in exchange for Bergdahl’s release. The “Taliban Five” have a common history. All were raised in madrassas in Afghanistan or Pakistan and were raised during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, later joining the Taliban prior to September of 2001.
Of all the prisoners released, their median age is 46 years old. All have been deemed by the Department of Defense “high” risk threats to the U.S. and of “high” intelligence value. Four out of the five were classified as “low” threat while in detention. All five held some sort of high level position in the Taliban until their capture following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. All five were recommended for continued detainment by the Department of Defense from around 2006-2007.
Here is a brief profile of each of the five Taliban leaders released from U.S. custody. All information below provided by NPR’s report from the Department of Defense.
Mullah Norullah Noori: As senior Taliban military commander in Mazar-e-Sharif during the U.S. and coalition forces invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, he is wanted by the United Nations for the deaths of thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Noori’s indoctrination into the Taliban began shortly after leaving Kabul for Jalalabad to conduct housework for Governor Malawi Kabir. Working his way up, Noori was transferred in February of 2000 to work for the Provincial Governor Mullah Ahktar Muhammed in Mazar-e-Sharif to “ensure the government operate as usual and to resolve tribal complaints.” Noori never received any weapons or military training. Noori’s capture came after he, along with several other of the Taliban leadership, surrendered themselves to Northern Alliance Commander General Dostum in November of 2001.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl: As Taliban’s Deputy Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff, Fazl is wanted by the United Nations for war crimes. He is accused of taking part in the deaths of thousands of Shiite Muslims. Fazl has associations with various terrorist organizations that oppose the United States. These organizations include al-Qaida, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, and Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami.
At the behest of Mullah Abdul Ghafar, Fazl traveled to Kandahar to join the Islamic movement taking root there. The Taliban as it was come to be known, was making a name for themselves and recruiting members quickly. Fazl was assigned a position as a Taliban soldier in Kandahar upon his arrival.
In under a year Fazl went from commanding 30 troops to 100. Fazl rose up through the ranks and found himself in command of over 2,500 troops. Thereafter Fazl led hostilities against the U.S. backed Northern Alliance in Takhar Province. Fazl was promoted to Taliban Chief of Army Staff and in addition, was named the Commander of the 10th Divison in Takhar province.
Fazl’s strongest asset was his ability to corral potential trainees for the Taliban prior to his detainment. The DoD warns that Fazl is likely to rejoin the Taliban following his release.
Fazl’s capture came after he, along with several other Taliban leadership, surrendered themselves to Northern Alliance Commander General Dostum in November of 2001.
Mohammed Nabi: Nabi is the only one out of the five Taliban leaders released considered to have been a “high” risk while in detainment. Nabi “served in miltiple leadership roles,” and has strong ties to terrorist organizations that oppose the United States. These organizations include al-Qaida, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and other Anti-Coalition Militia groups. Nabi a played vital role in several attacks against U.S. and coalition forces. Nabi also procured the smuggling of fighters and weapons through illegal border crossings.
Following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1984, Nabi’s family resettled in Pakistan. Nabi continued his religious studies, moving back to Afghanistan in the late 1980’s to take up arms against the Soviets.
After a short stint as a policeman in Khowst from 1992-1994, Nabi joined the Taliban shortly after the group regained control of Afghanistan in 1996. According to the DoD, Nabi was pushed by his tribe to join the Taliban to keep him safe from being labeled as a member of the opposition.
Nabi quit the Taliban for three years, rejoining in September of 2000 as a radio operator for the Taliban’s Chief of Communications office in Kabul. Shortly after Nabi worked directly for the Chief of the Border Department, Abdul Razzaq, who was a subordinate of Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Omar Muhammad. It is said Razzaq took direct orders from Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Omar Muhammad, making Nabi only second to Razzaq’s value as an informant.
Nabi once again left the Taliban, becoming a used car salesmen in a small village outside of Khowst. While the details are somewhat murky, it is said Nabi ended up becoming an informant for a CIA operative named Mark, who expected Nabi to lead him to Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Omar Muhammad. When Nabi failed to do so, he was arrested in September of 2002 at the old Khowst airport after being a meeting with CIA operative Mark.
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa: As the Taliban’s Minister of Interior, Governor of Herat, and Taliban military commander, Khairkhwa is said to have been directly associated with Osama Bin Laden and Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Muhammad Omar. Khairkhwa was put on a list of asset freezes by the United Nations after it was revealed Khairkhwa represented the Taliban during negotiations over military operations with Iranian officials following the September 2001 attacks.
Khairkhwa was also involved in narcotics trafficking, which is a huge source of personal revenue and Taliban operating finances. The DoD says the money was used to “promote Taliban interests in the area.”
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Khairkhwa was a refugee residing in Pakistan. Following his return to Afghanistan, Khairkhwa joined the Taliban and was moved around within the organization based on his “trustworthiness.” He was the Taliban’s spokesperson from 1995-1996, then promoted to Taliban Minister of Interior from 1996-1999. Thereafter Khairkhwa became the Governor of Herat Province until December of 2001.
According to Khairkhwa, his tenure as Governor involved working with NGO’s and civilian needs. He also claims that he was not an extremist, and that he has no knowledge of training camps or weapon training.
Khairkhwa traveled to Chaman, Pakistan in 2002 where he contacted Wali Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s brother, to negotiate surrender and integration into the new Afghan government. Former Governor of Kabul Abd al-Manan invited Khairkhwa to his house, presumably to talk about reintegration. Pakistani border patrol had an order to arrest Manan, but were unable to capture him during the raid on his house, catching Khairkhwa instead. He was held by Pakistani authorities until his eventual transfer to U.S. custody.
Abdul Haq Wasiq: As Taliban Deputy Minister of Intelligence, Wasiq had ties to Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin leadership and direct access to the Taliban. The DoD considered Wasiq as central to the Taliban’s ability to recruit other fundamentalist groups in the Taliban’s hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces in the region following the occupation.
Wasiq lived near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and was educated a madrassa in Quetta, Pakistan until the age of 18. He later landed a job leading prayer services at a mosque.
Wasiq traveled to Kabul shortly after the Taliban regained control of the country. After arriving, Wasiq worked for Taliban minister of Intelligence Qari Amadaullah for eight months at his guesthouse performing house chores.
After Deputy Minister of Intelligence Maulaqi Ihsanullah became sick and unable to fulfill his role, Wasiq was appointed the position. Wasiq’s job involved “directing investigations involving espionage, bribery, internal affairs and anti-corruption.”
Wasiq, along with his assistant and two Americans, met with U.S. officials to provide information on the whereabouts of Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. Unable to bring along the Taliban Minister of Intelligence Qari Ahmadullah, U.S. forces arrested Wasiq and his team.
-For more information on the Taliban Five, see the DoD links below-
While the speculation of Bergdahl’s release and ultimate swap for five prisoners continues to swirl around the headlines, learning who exactly the Taliban five really are, including their history, their influence, and their prestige within the organization, lends a powerful insight into the validity of the mainstream media’s continuing arguments.
From the information gathered by the DoD, A majority of the Taliban Five are men who worked their way up from performing menial house chores to taking positions as radio operators and border smugglers. Their level of risk and skills noted in the DoD profiles shows nothing more remarkable than their relative positions in the organization.
But this does not absolve these five men of their crimes. Joining a hostile organization that has committed the heinous acts of public stonings, beheadings, and wholesale oppression of its constituents is enough of a crime within of itself. Beyond that, they took up arms against the United States and fought to implement their fundamentalist view of Islamic law on innocent civilians.
But we should also keep in mind, there are hundreds of thousands of these religious fanatics who have dedicated their lives to pushing their radically violent agenda. These five men by all accounts won’t shift the balance of power in favor of the Taliban, or any extremist organization for that matter.
Bill Maher in the most colloquial of terms, observed that the release of the Taliban Five was like “releasing five more personal trainers into Los Angeles.” It’s not gonna’ make or break the personal fitness industry.
By John Amaruso