In the run-up to the November election, five Taliban commanders freed from Guantanamo in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl rejoined the Taliban’s political office in Qatar. That development calls for a look at the back story.
“One big concern is that the U.S. will be releasing five Taliban commanders in exchange for Bergdahl,” the Washington Post explained in 2014. “So who are these men? And what might they do when released?” The Post weighed in on both counts.
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhw helped to create the Taliban movement in 1994 and once served as its interior minister. According to his Guantanamo case file, he was known to have close ties to Osama Bin Laden of al Qaeda, prime mover of the 9/11 attacks.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl had served as a senior commander in the Taliban army during the 1990s, rising to chief of staff. He likely supervised the killing of thousands of Shiite Muslims near Kabul and was present during a prison riot that claimed CIA operative Johnny Spann. According to his file, if released Fazl would likely rejoin the Taliban and resume hostilities against the United States and coalition forces.
Mullah Norullah Noori was one of the Taliban’s provincial governors and rumored to be a player in the massacre of Shiites. According to his file, he is a significant figure who encourages acts of aggression.
Abdul Haz Wasiq, deputy intelligence chief for the Taliban, used his office to support al Qaeda. Wasiz also forged alliances between the Taliban and other Islamic militants.
For his part, Mohammed Nabi Omari was a member of a joint al Qaeda-Taliban cell, and one of the most significant Taliban leaders detained at Guantanamo. All five Taliban bosses were high risk and posed considerable threat to the United States and its allies. Even so, POTUS 44 pushed for their release, which came as a surprise to Senate Intelligence Committee boss Dianne Feinstein, a left-leaning San Francisco Democrat.
“There were very strong views and they were virtually unanimous against the trade,” Feinstein said at the time. But despite the opposition, she added, “the White House is pretty unilateral about what they want to do when they want to do it.”
The president claimed that Qatar would closely monitor the released Guantanamo detainees. Asked if was possible that they could return to hostile operations against the United States, POTUS 44 explained, “there’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place.” So in his view, the five Taliban commanders were not terrorists or enemy combatants but common criminals. Consider also what he got in exchange for the Taliban Five.
In 2009, Bowe Bergdahl wandered off a U.S. Army base and fell into the hands of the Taliban. National Security advisor Susan Rice, explained that Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction,” not just a hostage but “an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield.” The United States has a “sacred obligation” to bring back “our men and women who are taken in battle, and we did that in this instance.” So the exchange was a “joyous occasion.”
Trouble was, Bergdahl was not taken in battle. In a note left in his tent he said he was leaving to start a new life and intended to renounce his citizenship. According to his fellow soldiers he deserted and possibly collaborated with Taliban captors. Soldiers risked their lives trying to find Bergdahl and the base came under increased attack after he deserted.
In 2017 the Army dishonorably discharged Bergdahl for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. He was busted back to private and fined $1,000, but avoided any jail time. So Bowe Bergdahl had not served with distinction or been captured in combat as Susan Rice claimed. On the other hand, the president was right about the “recidivism” of the Taliban Five.
By 2015, three of the five had tried to “re-engage” by linking up with old terror networks. Mike Pompeo, then a Kansas congressman, told reporters, “I’ve seen nothing that causes me to believe these folks are reformed or have changed their ways or intend to re-integrate to society in ways to give me any confidence that they will not return in trying to do harm to America.”
In 2018, as members of the Taliban’s political office, the five commanders are in an ideal position to do just that. Last month the Taliban stepped up attacks on Afghan elections.
POTUS 44, formerly known as Barry Soetoro, essentially swapped Private Slovik for the German high command. The president approved the trade against strong opposition, even in his own party. It was what he wanted to do, and as Dianne Feinstein said, he was “pretty unilateral about it.”
In 2014 Donald Trump denounced the deal as a “very bad precedent” and “another U.S. loss.” During the 2016 campaign Trump called Bergdahl a “dirty rotten traitor” who “should be shot.” In 2017, President Trump blasted Bergdahl’s sentence as “complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”