CNN’s Barbara Starr reports that the U.S. military and intelligence community thinks that one member of the so-called Taliban Five “has attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar.” Officials aren’t saying which one of the five Taliban leaders, who were held at Guantanamo before being transferred to Qatar last year, has fallen under suspicion. But the U.S. has been monitoring their communications and one of the five has “reached out” to other jihadists.
None of this is surprising. It has been obvious for months that the “Taliban Five” were reconnecting with their jihadist brethren.
In mid-October, Afghan officials announced that they had captured two Haqqani Network leaders: Anas Haqqani and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari. Anas Haqqani is the youngest son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the notorious warlord who became one of Osama bin Laden’s earliest allies in South Asia. The Haqqani Network remains closely tied to al Qaeda.
Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari, who served as the Haqqani Network’s commander for southeastern Afghanistan, is the younger brother Mohammad Nabi Omari. It just so happens that Mohammad Nabi Omari is also one of the “Taliban Five.”
Although the Afghans claimed that the two leaders were captured inside Afghanistan, the Taliban quickly issued a statement saying that wasn’t true. According to the Taliban, the pair was captured after returning from their visit to Qatar, where they met with members of the Taliban Five. The Taliban even openly admitted that the two jihadists had met with Mohammad Nabi Omari.
Other sources confirmed that the two Haqqani leaders were not actually captured in Afghanistan, but were instead detained abroad as they returned from Qatar – just as the Taliban claimed.
Anas Haqqani and Qari Abdul Rasheed Omari were active in the fight when they were captured last October. It would be unreasonable to assume that their trip to Qatar was merely a social call. Qatar is a hotbed for jihadist fundraising. And the “Taliban Five” are rock stars in the jihadist world, meaning they could easily do some fundraising for the jihad if they wanted. While we don’t know exactly what transpired, it is unlikely that the youngest Haqqani and the junior Omari would risk such a trip unless there was something to be gained.
As the controversy over the exchange of the “Taliban Five” for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl continues to swirl, there are two ways to look at these reports
On the plus side, the U.S. has an electronic noose around the five ex-Gitmo detainees and is, therefore, able to detect their all-too-predictable return to militancy.
On the down side, the deal to keep them in Qatar runs out later this year. In all likelihood, it will be more difficult to track them then. In the meantime, their current environment is still hospitable for their preferred line of work.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.