Mullah Omar, the reclusive head of the Taliban, has purportedly released a statement hailing the transfer of the top five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo to Qatar. Omar says their freedom is a “great victory.”
The five Taliban leaders were exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban since 2009.
A copy of the statement attributed to Omar has been posted on the Taliban’s Urdu-language web site.
Omar thanks the government of Qatar, as well as its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, for his help in brokering the deal and for hosting the Taliban leaders. In earlier statements, both President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry similarly thanked Qatar for its assistance.
Omar offers his “heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation,” including “all the mujahideen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this great victory.”
The Taliban had demanded the release of the five commanders from Guantanamo for years. In early 2012, the Taliban announced that it had established a “political office” in Doha for the expressed purpose of securing their freedom.
In addition to Omar’s statement, the Taliban has also posted pictures of the now ex-Guantanamo detainees being greeted by supporters and family members in Qatar. As The Long War Journal has previously documented, all five were closely linked to al Qaeda prior to their detention and deemed “high” risks to the US, its interests, and its allies, according to leaked Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) threat assessments.
The first picture posted by the Taliban appears to show Mullah Norullah Noori, a senior Taliban military commander. According to a leaked JTF-GTMO file, Noori has been “wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims.” He fought alongside al Qaeda in pre-9/11 Afghanistan.
The second unlabeled photo, seen below, seems to be of Abdul Haq Wasiq, a senior Taliban intelligence official. He arranged for al Qaeda to train the Taliban in “intelligence methods,” according to a leaked JTF-GTMO file.
The third photo [below] shows Mullah Muhammad Fazl, the former Taliban deputy minister of defense. Fazl’s face is obscured in the photo. Like Noori, according to the JTF-GTMO files, Fazl is “wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites.” Fazl worked closely with al Qaeda leaders, including Abdul Hadi al Iraqi, who is still detained at Guantanamo.
The fourth photo shows Mohammad Nabi Omari, a Taliban leader who served in multiple roles and coordinated attacks with al Qaeda and other affiliated groups in Afghanistan.
The fifth and final photo is of Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban governor of Herat province. Khairkhwa had multiple ties to al Qaeda prior to 9/11, according to the JTF-GTMO files. He also helped broker a deal between the Iranian regime and the Taliban, who were historically at odds with one another. As a result of the deal, the Iranians agreed to support the Taliban in its war against the US.