The Taliban Five were long-term “high risk” Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who were former high-ranking members of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The five men were exchanged for United States Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in a deal which involved U.S. President Barack Obama sidestepping Congressional approval. The Taliban Five were released in Doha, Qatar on June 1, 2014.
Described by U.S. Senator John McCain as the “the hardest of the hard-core,” all five men had been deemed unfit for release and had been recommended for “continued detention,” in their final Gitmo detainee assessments, which you’ll find links to in this report.
The Taliban Five were taken from Guantanamo Bay and flown by a C-17 Globemaster III to Qatar, where they will be required to remain for one year as a condition of their release.
Mullah Norullah Noori
Noori arrived at Guantanamo on January 11, 2002. Intelligence analysts estimated he was born in 1967 in Shajoie, Afghanistan. He was Taliban governor of the Balkh province and played a role in coordinating resistance against the Northern Alliance. Noori was fighting on the front lines at Mazar-E-Sharif as a Taliban fighter and as the front lines in Mazar-E-Sharif fell, he moved with a majority of the remaining fighters to Kunduz to reestablish the front lines there. He participated in a meeting where Taliban leaders decided to surrender to the Northern Alliance. In December of 2001, shortly after the overthrow of the Taliban, Human Rights Watch called for a human rights tribunal to be convened against Noori and two others to investigate claims they had been responsible for alleged massacres of Shi’ite and Uzbek civilians between 1998 and 2001. According to a 2008 detainee assessment Noori was characterized as high risk and of high intelligence value. His Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 6.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl
A former Deputy Defense Minister and chief of army staff of the Taliban, Mullah Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001 and is considered to be the most dangerous of the group of 5. He’s accused of war crimes during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s and was wanted by the United Nations in connection with the massacre of thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban’s rule. According to his detainee assessment he expressed no regret when questioned about the murders. He was alleged to have been associated with several militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. Fazl was transferred into U.S. custody in December 2001 and was one of the first arrivals at Guantanamo, where he was assigned Guantanamo Internment Serial Number 7. Assessed as having high intelligence value he was classified as an enemy combatant by the United States. He arrived at the Guantanamo detention camps on 11 January 2002.
Abdul Haq Wasiq
Wasiq was the Taliban Deputy Minister of Intelligence. His cousin, Qari Ahmadullah, was the head of the service. An administrative review in 2007 cited a source as saying that Wasiq was also “an al Qaeda intelligence member” and had links with members of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, another militant Islamist group. After being captured Wasiq claimed that he was arrested while trying to help the United States locate senior Taliban figures but was actually involved in the operation to re-establish the front lines of Konduz, Afghanistan. His Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 4.
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa
A founding member of the Taliban dating back to 1994 Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa was the interior minister during the Taliban’s rule and former governor of Herat from 1999 to 2001. He is from the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and is described as a “friend” of the Afghan president. He was alleged to have been a direct associate of Osama bin Laden and Taliban Supreme Commander Mullah Muhammad Omar. According to his detainee assessment Khairkhwa was also most likely associated with former al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq(deceased). Khirullah is described as one of the major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan. He was arrested in Pakistan and transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002 where he was assigned Guantanamo Internment Serial Number is 579.
Mohammad Nabi Omari
American intelligence analysts estimate Omari was born in 1968, in Khowst, Afghanistan. He was a minor Taliban official in Khost Province. He was an alleged member of the Taliban and associated with both al Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin. He was the Taliban’s chief of communications and helped al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Omari acknowledged during hearings that he had worked for the Taliban. He claimed that after the US invasion he had been a loyal supporter of the Hamid Karzai government, and that he had been a covert operative for a US intelligence officer he knew only as “Mark”. He arrived at the Guantanamo detention camps on October 28, 2002. His Guantanamo Internment Serial Number was 832.
The circumstances and backgrounds of the individual Taliban Five members indicate they’d have little influence on the battlefield after more than a decade in prison. They now range in age from 43 to 47 and during their absences the Taliban has been decimated, yet far from defeated, by years of U.S. led counter terrorism efforts. The once tightly woven Taliban has now splintered off into a complex web of extremely violent – albeit smaller – militant groups that routinely kill civilians – often based on religious loyalties alone.
The popular sentiment is the release of the 5 men will provide, at the very least, a large boost in morale for existing Taliban members in Afghanistan. Alex Strick van Linschoten, who has co-written three books on the Taliban, confirmed that the releases were a symbol of the Taliban’s ability to negotiate on equal footing with the United States but would have little to no effect on the actual hostilities on the ground in Afghanistan:
“It’s a boost in terms of morale, but I doubt whether this would make any kind of practical impact, at least in the short term, to the conflict inside Afghanistan. All these guys are pretty old now.”
Others aren’t so optimistic and insist the 5 men now have “street cred” after doing hard time “for the cause” and most likely harbor hatred for the United States on a greater scale than ever before. Senator Marco Rubio(R-FLA) is one such skeptic and feels their freedom poses a major national security risk:
“You’ve just released five extremely dangerous people, who in my opinion … will rejoin the battlefield.”
Amid concerns that the trade has created large security risks, President Obama said that the U.S. would be “keeping eyes” on the Taliban Five members while they spend the next year in Qatar. He also acknowledged there’s “absolutely” a risk that the former Gitmo inmates will attempt to return to the Afghan battlefield.
According to many credible reports, some of them have already vowed to do just that. NBC reported Friday that Noori pledged to return and fight The United States in Afghanistan, according to a Taliban commander.