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Fantasyland Peace Talks with the Taliban

2:32 PM, Dec 19, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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As the governor of Afghanistan’s western Herat province, Khairkhwa and “his deputy were probably associated with a militant training camp in Herat operated by deceased al Qaeda commander (in Iraq) Abu Musab al Zarqawi.”

In declassified memos prepared at Guantanamo, U.S. officials alleged that Khairkhwa became a major drug trafficker as well. Khairkhwa reportedly built three walled compounds that he used to manage his opium trade. And he allegedly oversaw one of Osama bin Laden's training facilities in Herat, too. One U.S. government memo notes that only Khairkhwa or bin Laden himself “could authorize entrance” to the facility, which was one of bin Laden's “most important bases” and “conducted terrorist training two times per week.”

Catch and release in Afghanistan

A leaked State Department cable underscores the difficulties that both the Bush and Obama administrations have had in transferring war on terror detainees to Afghan custody. The cable, which originated at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on August 6, 2009, notes that on “numerous occasions” American officials “have emphasized with Attorney General Aloko the need to end interventions by him and President Karzai, who both authorize the release of detainees pre-trial and allow dangerous individuals to go free or re-enter the battlefield without ever facing an Afghan court.”

The cable makes it clear that this is a problem with respect to: detainees transferred from the American-run facility in Bagram to Afghan custody, detainees transferred from Guantanamo to Afghan custody, as well as narco-traffickers. When the Afghan government accepts transferred detainees, it is supposed to take certain security precautions. In some cases, the U.S. government expects the Afghans to try them in their courts. It often doesn’t work out that way, however.

The leaked State Department cable cites dozens of pre-trial releases that the U.S. government found problematic.

Top Taliban commanders, such as Mullah Zakir, have been released from Afghan custody after being transferred from Guantanamo. Zakir is the Quetta Shura Taliban’s top military commander.

There is no reason to think that the situation would be different with any of the four Taliban commanders discussed above. If they are among the Guantanamo detainees the Obama administration is considering repatriating, then the Taliban may very well replenish its leadership ranks as part of a misguided “peace” effort. 

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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