When the five Taliban commanders were detained by the United States, the American war here had only just begun. Though most of them held high-profile positions in the Taliban regime, they had little experience in the protracted insurgency that followed the American invasion. The Taliban to which they will return looks much different from the one they were torn from.
A decade or more later, they could be seen as martyrs, buoyed by the sacrifices made for the group’s cause and their role in its formation, or, alternatively, perhaps as men unfamiliar with the Taliban’s new mission – the 13th year of trying to destabilize the Afghan government.
In the years that the five detainees spent at Guantanamo, the Taliban mission has evolved in large and small ways, from shifts in roadside bomb construction to changes in the geography of the battlefield. It is unclear what role they will play in the current fight when they leave Qatar in 12 months.
Are their years-old Al Qaeda links still relevant? Could their experience be used as a recruitment tool? U.S. officials considered those questions before the prisoner exchange, but there are no conclusive answers. They could again ascend the insurgency’s ranks, or they could be marginalized as outsiders by new leadership.
Critics of the deal say the release has served as a moral victory for the Taliban at a critical time – just before next month’s presidential elections and as Afghan forces look to prove their superiority over insurgents.
The little information we know about them comes from their Guantanamo case files. All of them are described as "high risk, as he may pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies."
Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa
This 47-year-old was once the Taliban's interior minister, actually helping to create the Taliban movement in 1994. His Guantanamo case file, released by WikiLeaks, described him as a “hard-liner in his support of the Taliban philosophy” and “known to have close ties to Osama bin Laden.”
Captured by Pakistani border patrol on Feb. 16 2002.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl
Also 47, Fazi was a senior commander in the Taliban army during the 1990s, eventually becoming its chief of staff. He is thought to have personally supervised the killing of thousands of Shiite Muslims near Kabul between 1998 and 2001. His Guantanamo case file also describes him as being present at a 2001 prison riot that led to the death of CIA operative Johnny Michael Spann, the first U.S. citizen killed in the Afghan war. "If released, detainee would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with ACM elements participating in hostilities against US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan," his case file reads.
Fazi surrendered to a Northern Alliance commander in November 2001, and was transferred to U.S. custody in December.
Mullah Norullah Noori
Noori, 47, was a provincial governor in several areas during the Taliban regime. He is also believed to have been present during Spann's death and may have also been involved in the Shiite massacre. His Guantanamo case file says that he "continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression."
Noori turned himself in to a Northern Alliance commander in November 2001.
Abdul Haq Wasiq
Wasiq, 43, was the deputy chief of intelligence for the Taliban. According to his Guantanamo case file, he “utilized his office to support al Qaeda” and was “central to the Taliban’s effort to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups.”
Wasiq was detained in November 2001.
Mohammed Nabi Omari
Omari, 46, was a member of a joint al-Qaeda-Taliban cell in eastern Khost province, according to his case file, and “one of the most significant former Taliban leaders detained” at Guantanamo.
Omari was captured in September 2002.