Breitbart News had the exclusive opportunity to speak with Thomas Joscelyn, senior editor of The Long War Journal, an expert on al-Qaeda and its affiliates, including the Taliban, and the author of What President Obama Doesn’t Know About Guantanamo.
Breitbart News spoke with Joscelyn about the threats posed by the newly freed senior Taliban commanders, as well as Qatar’s role as an intermediary in the negotiations, and whether he thought the United States got a bad deal in exchanging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the five Taliban commanders previously held at Guantanamo:
Breitbart News: Mohammad Fazl was one of the first Guantanamo detainees from the Afghanistan war. Why is that so? Why has he been there for so long (since January 2002)?
Thomas Joscelyn: He’s undoubtedly one of the most dangerous Taliban commanders on the planet. He’s a guy who is known for being especially ruthless. The UN has wanted him for war crimes for years because he is suspected of taking part in the slaughter of thousands of Shia Muslims in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. He is also very operationally skilled. He’s someone that is quite capable of commanding forces on the battlefield.
Breitbart News: Mohammad Nabi: What was his role as former chief of Taliban security?
Thomas Joscelyn: According to leaked and declassified files, Nabi participated in a joint operational cell that mixed the Taliban with groups, including al-Qaeda, to orchestrate attacks against coalition forces. He’s someone who has served in multiple leadership capacities for the Taliban.
Breitbart News: Abdul Haq Wasiq: What is his relationship with Taliban leader Mullah Omar? What is his connection with al-Qaeda?
Thomas Joscelyn: All five were part of Mullah Omar’s inner circle. Wasiq was one of the top intelligence officials for Mullah Omar in the Taliban. In that role, Wasiq brought al-Qaeda in to train the Taliban intelligence services. AQ showed them how to use intelligence, counterintelligence, and security strategies. The Taliban initially lacked that expertise, so Wasiq turned to senior al-Qaeda operatives for that expertise. Wasiq is an example of how al-Qaeda supported the Taliban and how the two organizations were basically overlapping prior to 9/11.
Breitbart News: Mullah Norullah Nori was a senior Taliban commander and former provincial governor in Afghanistan.
Thomas Joscelyn: Nori is wanted by the UN for suspected war crimes, including the suspected slaughter of thousands of Shiites. He served in multiple roles for the Taliban. He’s another ruthless leader.
Breitbart News: Khairullah Khairkhwa: His U.S. lawyers made the argument that he’s distanced himself from the Taliban. Is there any truth to this narrative? Does he have ties to the Ayatollah’s regime in Iran?
Thomas Joscelyn: There are already pictures of him in Qatar being greeted by his Taliban supporters. Just because he’s made some statements along the lines, doesn’t really mean he’s actually distanced himself from the Taliban. We can’t be naive and believe this. Khairkhwa served the Taliban faithfully prior to 9/11. According to declassified and leaked files, he’s reportedly had a personal connection to Osama bin Laden himself. Mullah Omar (Taliban leader) trusted Khairkhwa to broker negotiations with the Iranian regime. Historically, the Iranian regime and the Taliban have been foes. Up until the late 1990s, this was the case. Both before and after 9/11, Khairkhwa was instrumental in setting up meetings between the Iranian regime and the Taliban. During those meetings, the Iranians pledged to assist the Taliban in their war against the United States.
Breitbart News: How bad a deal did the United States get in exchanging Bowe Bergdahl for these ruthless Taliban officials?
Thomas Joscelyn: The Obama administration did not negotiate with the Taliban; they acquiesced to the demands of the Taliban. This was not a negotiated deal. This is something the Taliban has long-wanted. Giving up Bowe Bergdahl meant nothing to the Taliban.
Breitbart News: Was Qatar a legitimate intermediary, especially concerning the fact they are so closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood? Was it a good idea to involve the government of Qatar?
Thomas Joscelyn: Qatar has multiple problems. It is somewhat a duplicitous nation right now in supporting the United States’ fight against terrorism. Look no further than a series of official documents from the Obama administration about Qatar, and you will see that it is a major financial hub, fundraising for jihadist groups including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and others. In April, in the State Department’s country reports on terrorism, they specifically worried about Qatar’s relationship with Islamist groups. They worried Qatar had enabled a very permissive environment for fundraising for jihadist groups. It’s obvious why the Taliban set up its political office in Doha and why the Taliban wanted these five to send off to Qatar. They know it’s a very permissive environment with Islamist sympathies.
Breitbart News: What do you suspect will become of these now-freed Taliban commanders?
Thomas Joscelyn: In the near term, in the one year they are supposed to stay in Qatar, I don’t have any doubt that they will be part of the Taliban’s propaganda and fundraising efforts. They may even get involved somehow operationally. These are guys who will definitely rejoin their comrades. However, I’m not so sure that they will even be forced to stay in Qatar for a year. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they will resume their operational leadership roles.