The Magazine

No Confidence

Jun 16, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 38 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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Three years later, the Taliban has still shown no willingness to agree to any of these three preconditions-turned-outcomes. And releasing the Taliban Five will not help matters. These are men who devoted their lives to building an Islamic state based on the Taliban’s harsh version of sharia law, which cannot accept any other laws as the basis for governance, including the current Afghan constitution. All five have been committed to pursuing this goal by violent means, even if they are willing to use other means as well. All five were deemed “high” risks to the United States, its interests, and allies by Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility. President Obama’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force considered all five too dangerous to release and recommended that they be held indefinitely. Two of the five have long been suspected of committing or ordering war crimes in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.

And then there is the issue of the Taliban’s relationship with al Qaeda. The Taliban regime harbored al Qaeda in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks. Even today al Qaeda has a foothold in parts of the country, including the provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. If the Taliban retakes control of other parts of Afghanistan after American forces leave, then we could find ourselves right back where this all began, with the Taliban giving al Qaeda the freedom to operate. Nonetheless, some in Washington cling to the fanciful notion that the Taliban can make a clean break from al Qaeda. This is one of the principal reasons that the Obama administration is willing to bend over backwards to pursue peace talks with the Taliban.

According to leaked and declassified files prepared at Guantánamo, however, the Taliban Five were among those who helped cement the relationship between Mullah Omar’s organization and al Qaeda in the first place.

Mohammad Fazl served as deputy minister of defense and the army chief of staff for the Taliban. He is one of the two leaders who has long been a suspected war criminal. According to a leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessment, Fazl worked closely with a top al Qaeda commander known as Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, who is still held at Guantánamo. Al Iraqi reported to Osama bin Laden and led the deceased al Qaeda master’s chief fighting unit, the Arab 055 Brigade, in pre-9/11 Afghanistan. The 055 Brigade is described in the JTF-GTMO files as being al Qaeda’s “primary formation supporting Taliban military objectives” and “was almost exclusively comprised of Arabs, many of whom had affiliations with other international terrorist groups.” In addition to leading al Qaeda’s paramilitary forces, al Iraqi is suspected of playing a direct role in the July 7, 2005, bombings in London. The JTF-GTMO files for Fazl link him to al Qaeda leaders other than al Iraqi as well.

Norullah Noori is another senior Taliban leader who, like Fazl, remains wildly popular within the organization. Like Fazl, Noori has long been suspected of committing war crimes. In late 2001, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations urged the international community to try the pair for overseeing atrocities committed against civilians. While at Guantánamo, Noori and Fazl were asked about their role in slaughtering thousands. They “did not express any regret and stated they did what they needed to do in their struggle to establish their ideal state,” according to JTF-GTMO’s threat assessment. Noori was also “directly connected” to al Qaeda, and intelligence reports indicate he was colluding with the group as early as the mid-1990s.

Abdul Haq Wasiq was once the Taliban’s deputy minister of intelligence. Wasiq “utilized his office to support al Qaeda” and “arranged for al Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff in intelligence methods.” The training was headed by Hamza Zubayr, an al Qaeda instructor who was killed during the same September 2002 raid that netted Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the point man for the 9/11 operation. Wasiq “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 after the 11 September 2001 attacks,” according to JTF-GTMO’s threat assessment.

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