Nearly all of those who hold senior positions have close ties to al Qaeda
Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reports on the latest at the Pentagon.
Four out of five Guantanamo detainees whom former President Barack Obama released in exchange for former U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014 now hold senior positions in the interim government created by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
According to the Afghan television network TOLOnews, the Taliban-formed government gave leadership positions to Khairullah Khairkhwa, Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Mohammad Fazl; all of whom were released in a 2014 deal between the Obama administration and the Taliban to free Bergdahl, whom the Taliban had held as a prisoner since 2009.
On Tuesday, the Taliban announced that Khairkhwa would serve as acting minister for information and culture, Noori would serve as acting minister of borders and tribal affairs, Wasiq would serve as acting director of intelligence, and Fazl would serve as deputy defense minister.
Wasiq will reprise his role as the Taliban’s intelligence director, previously serving in the role prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America. U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Wasiq had close tied to al Qaeda while he was serving in that position at the time.
Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), noted that Fazl will also return to his role as deputy defense minister. “U.S. officials found that Fazl worked with senior al Qaeda personnel, including Abdel Hadi al Iraqi, one of Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenants,” Joscelyn wrote in a tweet. “Al Iraqi is still held at Guantanamo.”
Late last month, following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the Taliban announced that Mohammad Nabi Omari, another former Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (GTMO) detainee with close ties to al Qaeda, would govern Khost Province.
In 2011, a Washington, D.C., district court judge found that Khairkhwa “was, without question, a senior member of the Taliban both before and after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.”
The court also denied Khairkhwa’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, concluding that he “has repeatedly admitted that after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he served as a member of a Taliban envoy that met clandestinely with senior Iranian officials to discuss Iran’s offer to provide the Taliban with weapons and other military support in anticipation of imminent hostilities with US coalition forces.”
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the militant group known as Haqqani Network, now serves as acting interior minister for the Taliban government. The U.S. has put a $10 million bounty on Haqqani’s head. Since 2016, Haqqani has served as one of two deputy leaders of the Taliban.
Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse released a statement on Tuesday regarding the Taliban’s formation of the government, insisting that the trust President Joe Biden and U.S. officials placed in the Taliban is “pathetic.”
“President Biden still clings to an insane fantasy that the Taliban is kinder and gentler,” Sasse said. “It’s nonsense. Haqqani is the Taliban’s new interior minister for precisely the same reason the FBI’s got a $5 million bounty on his head: he’s a bloodthirsty terrorist. He’s armed, dangerous, and running a country we just abandoned.”
“Americans are still trapped behind Taliban lines, the Biden Administration is still refusing to disclose how many of our people they left behind, and the State Department keeps talking about how they really hope the Taliban ‘will live up to their commitments,'” Sasse added. “Pathetic.”
Regarding the newly announced members of the Taliban’s interim government, a spokesperson for the State Department told Fox News that officials are assessing the list of members, which mostly includes figures who have prime ties to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda.
“We have seen the announcement and are assessing it,” the spokesperson said. “We note the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates and no women. We also are concerned by the affiliations and track records of some of the individuals.”
The spokesperson also said that the State Department will “continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments” regarding evacuation efforts.
“We understand that the Taliban has presented this as a caretaker cabinet. However, we will judge the Taliban by its actions, not words. We have made clear our expectation that the Afghan people deserve an inclusive government,” the spokesperson added. “We will continue to hold the Taliban to their commitments to allow safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans with travel documents, including permitting flights currently ready to fly out of Afghanistan to agreed-upon onward destinations. We also reiterate our clear expectation that the Taliban ensure that Afghan soil is not used to threaten any other countries and allow humanitarian access in support of the Afghan people. The world is watching closely.”
The White House on Tuesday said there is “no rush” to recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan, adding that U.S. recognition will be “dependent” on the Taliban’s actions, as the group announced the formation of its new government.
“There’s no rush to recognition, and that will be planned dependent on what steps the Taliban takes,” Psaki said. “The world will be watching whether they allow for American citizens, whether they allow individuals to leave who want to, and how they treat women and girls around the country.”
Biden also considered the recognition of the Taliban-formed government to be “a long way off.”
Fox News’ Kelly Laco and Brooke Singman contributed to this article.
Kyle Morris covers politics for Fox News and is a graduate of the University of Alabama. Follow him on Twitter: @RealKyleMorris