Four Taliban leaders freed in swap for Bergdahl join new government

Four Taliban leaders freed in swap for Bergdahl join new government


Four ex-Guantanamo Bay inmates Obama freed in exchange for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl are named as top commanders in Afghanistan’s new Taliban government

  • New Taliban government includes four former Guantanamo Bay prisoners
  • They were released in a prisoner swap in 2014 in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl
  • Bergdahl was an admitted Army deserter held hostage by the Haqqani network 
  • The Taliban unveiled its new interim government on Tuesday
  • It included a wanted terrorist and the four former Guantanamo Bay prisoners 
  • White House said: ‘There is no rush to recognition’ of the Taliban government
  • The Taliban has used social media to present a more inclusive face to the world
  • But its government includes many of the same faces from its pre-9/11 regime 
  • Rep. Mike Waltz said it was a ‘slap in the face’ to every veteran and victims of 9/11

Four top members of the Taliban’s new interim government are former Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were freed by the Obama administration in a prisoner exchange for Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl.

The four new officials were members of the hardline ‘Guantanamo Five’ who were traded to free Bergdahl from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in 2014. 

The Taliban on Tuesday announced the appointment of 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 four men, who also took part in direct negotiations with the US at the Doha summit last year, spent about 13 years in the military prison camp before they were freed in a trade for the admitted deserter, who was captured by insurgents after wandering off his post. 

Four of the so-called Guantanamo Five were named to the Taliban government on Tuesday. They included Abdul Haq Wasiq (left) as director of intelligence and Mullah Noorullah Noori as minister of borders and tribal affairs. They were held at Guantanamo Bay for 12 years before being released in exchange for American soldier Bowe Bergdahl

Mullah Mohammad Fazl (l) returns to the role he held before 9/11, becoming deputy defense minister while Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah will be information and culture minister in the new Taliban administration

Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl was freed from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in 2014 in a prisoner swap for five Taliban leaders imprisoned at Guantanamo, who are now key officials

President Barack Obama makes a statement about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as his parents, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) listen May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden

Republican Rep. Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, expressed his disgust that key positions will now be held by the former Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

‘I have déjà vu knowing it’s the same national security team in place now that then “exchanged” such high-value terrorists for traitor Bowe Bergdahl,’ he told 

‘I personally led searches for Bergdahl and soldiers in other units lost their lives in search of him. 

‘Seeing these former Guantanamo prisoners now in charge of a terrorist state that will once again threaten the homeland is a slap in the face to every veteran, gold star family, and victims of 9/11. 

‘Despite this, the Biden Administration has still yet to learn appeasement has serious national security consequences and we are more unsafe now as a result of this disastrous withdrawal.’  

One of the most feared figures of the four is Mullah Mohammad Fazl. He returns to the role he held in the pre-9/11 government as deputy defense minister.

He is alleged to be responsible for killing thousands of Afghanistan’s minority Shia. 

He, along with the other four, were released as part of a deal for Bergdahl. The fifth member of the Guantanamo Five, Mohammad Nabi Omari, was appointed governor of eastern Khost Province last month.

Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah, will be information and culture minister

Mohammad Nabi Omari (L) and Khairullah Khairkhwa (R), members of the Taliban who were former prisoners held by the US at Guantanamo Bay, were released in 2014 and became negotiators for the Islamist group based in Doha, Qatar

Abdul Haq Wasiq, head of the National Directorate of Security, was also freed as part of the Bergdahl deal. 

He was previously the deputy minister of intelligence for the Taliban. He also took part in political negotiations with the US in Doha. 

Another of the Guantanamo Five, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah, will be information and culture minister. 

Mullah Noorullah Noori, who served as governor of several provinces under the previous Taliban government, will be minister of borders and tribal affairs#.

Human rights groups have also accused him of committing atrocities against Shia and, like Fazl, his troops surrendered to U.S. forces in 2001 only to launch a prison revolt that sparked one of the biggest battles of the early war and claimed the first American life. 

Women were also absent from the new government announced in Kabul. 

On Tuesday, the White House press secretary said President Joe Biden was in no hurry to recognize the new Taliban government of Afghanistan.

The appointments – including Sirajuddin Haqqani, who carries a $10 million State Department bounty on his head, as interior minister – will dash hopes that the Taliban’s slick media campaign would translate into a more moderate movement. 

Afghanistan’s new interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head and is wanted for an attack on a Kabul that killed six people, including an American

Critics said reports that the Taliban in 2021 was different to the brutal, medieval movement that was ousted in 2001 had been shown to be wishful thinking

Biden’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters: ‘There is no rush to recognition. 

‘It is really going to be dependent on what steps the Taliban takes. 

‘The world will be watching – the United States included – and they will be watching whether they allow for American citizens and citizens of other countries to depart, whether they allow individuals who want to leave the country to leave, whether they allow for humanitarian assistance to travel, how they treat women and girls around the country.’

U.S. officials were forced to work with the Taliban during a chaotic evacuation mission.

Now governments, the United Nations and aid agencies must grapple with how to deliver emergency help to a country facing a humanitarian disaster while avoiding giving legitimacy to a government that looks much like the one ousted in 2001. 

Diplomats have repeatedly urged the Taliban to respect the human rights of Afghans but the new administration in Kabul, unveiled three weeks after the Taliban swept to military victory as U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew, offered no sign of a more moderate face. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters traveling on Air Force One that, ‘There is no rush to recognition,’ when it comes to the new Taliban administration

Bill Roggio, editor of the Long War Journal, said hopes that the Taliban would offer a new face to the world were nothing more than wishful thinking.

‘Now that the Taliban announced its government and it is clear the prevailing “wisdom” that it would be inclusive is dead, when will other canards, like it is “pragmatic”, “can’t govern”, “wants legitimacy and will moderate” or “it isn’t in its interests to work with Al Qaeda” die?’ he asked.

‘When will Washington and the press stop listening to and repeating the arguments of the failed analysts and architects of failure, with their canned, wrong-headed, politically expedient talking points?’ 

Afghanistan’s new interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is leader of the feared Haqqani network, believed responsible for some of the most deadly attacks in Kabul and behind a spate of kidnappings of foreigners.

He is on the FBI’s ‘most wanted’ list and carries a $10 million bounty on his head. 

Chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid held a press conference on Tuesday evening to announce UN-sanctioned Mohammad Hassan Akhund as the new leader

His father was close to Osama bin Laden, who is thought to have named his terrorist network after Jalaluddin Haqqani’s headquarters or ‘base’ – ‘Al Qaeda’ in Arabic.

Sirajuddin, 48, has been the frequent target of U.S. drone strikes and is currently deputy leader of the Taliban.

According to the FBI’s website, he is wanted in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, which resulted in the death of six people, including an American citizen. 

Other figures were part of the regime that allowed Al Qaeda to build bases where they plotted the 9/11 attacks. 

The Taliban’s prime minister, Mullah Hasan Akhund, was foreign minister and deputy prime minister when the Taliban held power from 1996 to 2001.   

He derives much of his power from his links to the movements reclusive, late founder Mullah Omar, and is on a UN sanctions blacklist.

The Taliban top brass, from the UN-sanctioned leader freed by the US three years ago to the son of the one-eyed former chief Mullah Omar now serving as interior minister

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban co-founder and leader of the provisional government 

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the co-founders of the Taliban, was freed from jail in Pakistan three years ago at the request of the U.S. government.  

Just nine months ago, he posed for pictures with Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to sign a peace deal in Doha which today lies in tatters.

Last month, his forces seized Kabul and he is now tipped to become Afghanistan’s next leader in a reversal of fortune which humiliates Washington.  

While Haibatullah Akhundzada is the Taliban’s overall leader, Baradar is head of its political office and one of the most recognisable faces of the chiefs who have been involved in peace talks in Qatar. 

In September 2020, Baradar was pictured with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who ‘urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,’ the US said in a statement

The 53-year-old was deputy leader under ex-chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, whose support for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden led to the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. 

Baradar is reported to have flown immediately from Doha to Kabul on Sunday evening as the militants were storming the presidential palace. 

Born in Uruzgan province in 1968, Baradar was raised in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

He fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s until they were driven out in 1989.

Afterwards, Afghanistan was gripped by a blood civil war between rival warlords and Baradar set up an Islamic school in Kandahar with his former commander Mohammed Omar.

The two mullahs helped to found the Taliban movement, an ideology which embraced hardline orthodoxy and strived for the creation of an Islamic Emirate. 

Fuelled by zealotry, hatred of greedy warlords and with financial backing from Pakistan’s secret services, the Taliban seized power in 1996 after conquering provincial capitals before marching on Kabul, just as they have in recent months.

Baradar had a number of different roles during the Taliban’s five-year reign and was the deputy defence minister when the US invaded in 2001.  

He went into hiding but remained active in the Taliban’s leadership in exile.

In 2010, the CIA tracked him down to the Pakistani city of Karachi and in February of that year the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) arrested him.

But in 2018, he was released at the request of the Trump administration as part of their ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar, on the understanding that he could help broker peace. 

In February 2020, Baradar signed the Doha Agreement in which the U.S. pledged to leave Afghanistan on the basis that the Taliban would enter into a power-sharing arrangement with President Ashraf Ghani’s government in Kabul.

He was pictured in September with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who ‘urged the Taliban to seize this opportunity to forge a political settlement and reach a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire,’ the US said in a statement.

Pompeo ‘welcomed Afghan leadership and ownership of the effort to end 40 years of war and ensure that Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States or its allies.’

The Doha deal was heralded as a momentous peace declaration but has been proved to be nothing but a ploy by the Taliban.

The jihadists waited until thousands of American troops had left before launching a major offensive to recapture the country, undoing two decades of work by the US-led coalition.

Haibatullah Akhundzada, the future Emir of Afghanistan and the Taliban’s Islamic figurehead

Haibatullah Akhundzada, the ‘Leader of the Faithful,’ is the Taliban’s Supreme Commander with the final word on its political, religious and military policy.

Akhundzada is expected to take the title of Emir of Afghanistan.

Believed to be around 60-years-old, he is not known for his military strategy but is revered as an Islamic scholar and rules the Taliban by that right. 

He took over in 2016 when the group’s former chief, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike on the Pakistani border.

After being appointed leader, Akhundzada secured a pledge of loyalty from Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who showered the religious scholar with praise – calling him ‘the emir of the faithful’.

This helped to seal his jihadi credentials with the group’s long-time allies. 

Akhundzada became head of the Taliban’s council of religious scholars after the US invasion and is believed to be the author of many of its fatwas (Islamic legal rulings)

Akhundzada was tasked with the enormous challenge of unifying a militant movement that briefly fractured during a bitter power struggle following the assassination of his predecessor, and the revelation that the leadership had hid the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar for years.

The leader’s public profile has been largely limited to the release of annual messages during Islamic holidays.  

Akhundzada was born around 1959 to a religious scholar in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar Province.

His family were forced to flee their home during the Soviet invasion and he joined the resistance as a young man.

He was one of the first new Taliban recruits in the 1990s and immediately impressed his superiors with his knowledge of Islamic law.

When the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s western Farah province, he was put in charge of fighting crime in the area.

As the Taliban seized more of the country, Akhunzad became head of the military court and deputy chief of its supreme court. 

After the US invasion in 2001 he became head of the Taliban’s council of religious scholars and is believed to be the author of many of its fatwas (Islamic legal rulings), including public executions of murderer and adulterers and cutting the hands off thieves. 

Before being named the new leader he had been preaching and teaching for around 15 years at a mosque in Kuchlak, a town in southwestern Pakistan, sources told Reuters.  

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the famed commander from the anti-Soviet jihad

Sirajuddin doubles as both the deputy leader of the Taliban movement while also heading the powerful Haqqani network.

The Haqqani Network is a US-designated terror group that has long been viewed as one of the most dangerous factions fighting Afghan and US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan during the past two decades.

The group is infamous for its use of suicide bombers and is believed to have orchestrated some of the most high-profile attacks in Kabul over the years.

An FBI wanted poster for Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the famed commander from the anti-Soviet jihad

The network has also been accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Western citizens for ransom – including US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, released in 2014.

Known for their independence, fighting acumen, and savvy business dealings, the Haqqanis are believed to oversee operations in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, while holding considerable sway over the Taliban’s leadership council.

Mullah Yaqoob, the son of the Taliban’s founder

The son of the Taliban’s founder Mullah Omar.

Mullah Yaqoob heads the group’s powerful military commission, which oversees a vast network of field commanders charged with executing the insurgency’s strategic operations in the war.

His lineage and ties to his father – who enjoyed a cult-like status as the Taliban’s leader – serves as a potent symbol and makes him a unifying figure over a sprawling movement.

However speculation remains rife about Yaqoob’s exact role within the movement, with some analysts arguing that his appointment to the role in 2020 was merely cosmetic. 

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