Five pillars of old Taliban regime
Profiles of the five Guantanamo prisoners freed in exchange for Sgt Bowe Bergdahl of the US Army.
The five prisoners released from Guantanamo were pillars of the Taliban regime when the movement ruled most of Afghanistan before 2001.
Khairullah Khairkhwa, who is about 47, helped to found the Taliban in 1994 and served as the interior minister and governor of Herat province. According to US government files on Guantanamo detainees, he was “directly associated” with both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the “supreme commander” of the Taliban. Khairkhwa was also “one of the major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan”.
He is believed to have been captured by US forces in Afghanistan in late 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. In 2008, the American authorities still judged him to be a “high risk” as a “threat to the US” and of “high intelligence value”.
Mullah Norullah Noori, also about 47, was a Taliban military commander stationed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif during the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Earlier, he served as governor of Balkh province. This placed Noori in an area of Afghanistan inhabited largely by Uzbeks and Tajiks, where the Pashtun-dominated Taliban had little support.
He is personally implicated in some of the massacres perpetrated by the Taliban. Noori was arrested in late 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in January 2002. US government files say that he was “associated” with Mullah Mohammed Omar and “senior al-Qaeda members”. In 2008, American officials also believed that he “remained a significant figure to Taliban supporters” and continued to “pose a threat to the US”.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl, 47, served as deputy defence minister under the Taliban regime and is probably the most significant of the five released detainees. He was briefly chief of staff of the Taliban army during the US invasion in 2001. Fazli is also implicated in the massacre of thousands of Shia Muslims who opposed the Taliban.
As one of the movement’s most senior military commanders, Fazl was “associated with terrorist groups currently opposing US and Coalition forces including al-Qaeda,” according to his US government file. This official assessment also warned that, if released, Fazl “would likely rejoin the Taliban” and resume “hostilities against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan”.
Fazl was captured in late 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002.
Abdul Haq Wasiq, who is about 43, is the youngest of the five men released from Guantanamo. He served as the Taliban’s deputy intelligence minister and was a central figure in the movement’s efforts to ally with other extremist groups. Wasiq’s US government file says that he “arranged for al-Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff”.
He was captured by US forces in the Afghan city of Ghazni in late 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo in January 2002. As of 2008, the US thought he was still a “high risk” and continued to “pose a threat to the US, its interests and allies”.
Mohammad Nabi Omari, 46, was a Taliban commander who served in a joint unit with al-Qaeda to resist the US invasion in 2001. His US government file says that he “maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of fighters and weapons”. Omari was also linked to the Haqqani network, an extremist group based in Pakistan which has been responsible for numerous high profile attacks in Afghanistan.
Omari arrived in Guantanamo in October 2002. He is understood to have told interrogators that he left the Taliban in 2001 and later passed on information to the CIA via a handler who he knew only as “Mark”. His official file says this story is “of unknown credibility” and notes that Omari “conspicuously avoids providing any information detailing his actions and relationships”. As of 2008, he was still thought to pose a “high risk” to US interests and allies.