By Arun Anand
This is the 28th part of the 30-part series on ‘The Taliban’. You can share your feedback at email@example.com. Here is the 28th part-
The Taliban announced the formation of an “interim government” to rule over Afghanistan a few days after it captured Kabul. It also named the country as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as it had done during 1996-2001.
Many of the leaders in the new Taliban regime are actually old Taliban hands. More than a dozen of them were first sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in early 2001. Some new faces have joined them. Many of the Taliban leaders discussed below have either current or historical ties to Al- Qaeda. Indeed, some of them worked closely with al Qaeda throughout their careers. Some them are U.S.-designated terrorists. Six of the newly-appointed Taliban leaders were once held at the detention facility in Guantánamo. Five of them were exchanged for American soldier Bowe Bergdahl in 2014 who was captured by Taliban in 2009.1
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has served as the Taliban’s emir since 2016. In the new regime also, he is the “Emir” i.e., the top leader of the Taliban regime. Akhundzada is known to have fought within the ranks of the Hezb-e-Islami group against Soviet troops. This group was led by the Mujahideen commander Yunus Khalis. Akhundzada was a judge and head of the judiciary branch in the earlier Taliban regime.
As the top judicial figure, Akhundzada issued fatwas, or religious decrees, justifying all aspects of the Taliban’s operations, including suicide attacks. His son, Hafiz Abdul Rahman, killed himself in a suicide attack against Afghan forces in Helmand province in 2017. Ayman al Zawahiri, the head of al Qaeda, swore allegiance to Akhundzada in 2016. The Taliban’s “Emir of the Faithful” has never disavowed Zawahiri’s oath.2
Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund
He is the acting head of state in new Taliban regime. Akhund was a close colleague of Taliban’s founder and its first emir, Mullah Omar. During the Taliban’s first regime from 1996 to 2001, Akhund served as the governor of Kandahar as well as the foreign minister, and first deputy of the Taliban’s council of ministers.
On behalf of the Taliban’s senior leadership, Akhund refused to turn over Osama bin Laden after Al Qaeda carried out the August 1998 U.S. embassy bombings — the deadliest attack by bin Laden’s network prior to 9/11. “We will never give up Osama at any price,” Akhund said, after the U.N. threatened to impose sanctions if bin Laden wasn’t handed over. Akhund was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001. ..Akhund was one of the Taliban’s “most effective” insurgent commanders. He was also member of the Taliban’s supreme council.3
He is the acting interior minister in new Taliban regime. Sirajuddin is the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of Haqqani Network which is considered to be the fountainhead of Jihad that has been exported by it to many parts of the world. The Haqqanis have been fully backed by Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment.
In October 2001, Jalaluddin was appointed the head of the Taliban’s military forces. In that role, he helped Osama bin Laden escape the American manhunt in late 2001, while also publicly defending the al Qaeda founder. Indeed, Jalaluddin was one of bin Laden’s first benefactors and helped incubate al Qaeda in the Haqqanis’ own camps in eastern Afghanistan during the 1980s. Al Qaeda issued a glowing eulogy for Jalaluddin after the Taliban announced his death in 2018, and continued to honour him in the months that followed. Sirajuddin Haqqani issued orders concerning how to govern as the Taliban conquered Afghanistan. Years before Jalaluddin’s demise, Sirajuddin inherited the leadership of the Haqqanis’ network. He has overseen it for much of the past two decades. At the same time, Sirajuddin quickly rose up the Taliban’s ranks, serving as one of two deputy emirs to Akhundzada since 2016, as well as the head of the Taliban’s Miramshah Shura. Sirajuddin has worked closely with Al Qaeda throughout his career, so much so that it is often difficult to tell the Haqqanis and Al Qaeda apart. A team of experts working for the United Nations Security Council reported that Sirajuddin may even be a member of Al Qaeda’s “wider” leadership. Regardless, there is no question that Sirajuddin is an Al Qaeda man. The Haqqanis main media arm has even celebrated the unbroken bond between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. And Al Qaeda’s general command has referred to Sirajuddin and Akhundzada as “our emirs in the Islamic emirate.” 4
Sirajuddin was listed by the US government as a specially designated global terrorist. It had offered a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to his capture and prosecution.
In the new Taliban regime, Mullah Yaqoub has been appointed as the acting defence minister. He is the eldest son of Taliban’s founder and its first emir Mullah Omar and is believed to be in his 30s.
His name came to public attention during the Taliban’s leadership succession in 2016. Though Yaqoub had the support of some of the movement’s military commanders, concerns about his youth became a factor in the eventual decision to choose Sheikh Haibatullah as the insurgency’s overall leader.5
Alongside Sirajuddin Haqqani, Yaqoub has served as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs since 2016. Yaqoub was also named as the group’s military commander. …(He) previously served as a member of the Quetta Shura and the military commander of 15 provinces.6
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
A co-founder of Taliban along with Mullah Omar, he is the acting first deputy head of state. During the first Taliban regime (1996-2001), he was deputy minister of defense. Baradar was released by Pakistan on behest of the Trump administration in order to give a big push to US-Taliban negotiations in Doha.
Baradar was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2001 and detained in Pakistan for around eight years after he was captured in a joint US-Pakistan raid in 2010.
When the Taliban reformed as an insurgency, Baradar was Mullah Omar’s principal deputy, and he led the movement’s military operations. He oversaw a sharp escalation of the insurgency in 2006 but was also engaged in secret consultations with the emissaries of President Hamid Karzai and international assistance organizations.7
Mullah Abdul Salam Hanafi
He is the second deputy head of state. He was an important member of Taliban’s Doha delegation that participated in talks with the US which resulted in US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. He is known to be close to China also.
He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2001, as he served as the deputy minister of education for the Taliban at the time. Years later, beginning in 2007, the Taliban named him its shadow governor for Jawzjan province. He was also “believed to be involved in drug trafficking,” according to the U.N.8
Khalil al Rahman Haqqani
He is the acting minister of refugees, brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani and uncle of Sirajuddin Haqqani. He has served as a key fundraiser, financier, and operational commander for the Haqqani Network.
When the U.S. Treasury Department designated Khalil as a terrorist in 2011, it noted that he “acted on behalf of” al Qaeda’s military, or “Shadow Army,” in Afghanistan. In 2002, when the U.S. was hunting Osama bin Laden, Khalil deployed men “to reinforce al Qaeda elements in Paktia Province, Afghanistan.” The U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture and prosecution. It is likely that at least some of al Qaeda’s personnel are considered “refugees” in Afghanistan, meaning they will be included in Khalil Haqqani’s portfolio.9
Mullah Abdul Manan Omari
He is the brother of Mullah Omar and uncle to Mullah Yaqoub. He has been appointed as the acting minister of public works.
In 2016, he was named the head of the Taliban’s preaching and guidance commission, which was tasked with spreading “the goals of Islamic Emirate,” while countering the “illegality and aims of the invaders and their stooges,” meaning the Afghan government. He served as a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team in Doha, Qatar.10
Mullah Taj Mir Jawad
He holds the important position of the acting first deputy of intelligence. He also belongs to Haqqani Network.
Jawad was a leader in what the U.S. military used to refer to as the Kabul Attack Network, which pooled fighters and resources from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, the Turkistan Islamic Party, and Hizb-I-Islami Gulbuddin in order to conduct attacks in and around Kabul. The network extended into Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul Provinces. In his new role, Jawad will work with Abdul Haq Wasiq, an ex-Guantanamo detainee.11
Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir
He is a former detainee from Guantanamo Bay and has been appointed in the new Taliban regime as the acting deputy minister of defense. Zakir was released in 2008.
He served as the head of the Taliban’s Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a military command that oversees operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. In this capacity, he worked closely with Al Qaeda. He led the fight against the U.S. surge in the south, and in 2010 was appointed as the head of the Taliban’s military commission. He resigned in 2014 but remained on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and led military forces in the south. In 2020 he was appointed to serve as a deputy to military commission chief Mullah Yaqoub. 12
He is the acting deputy minister of the interior for security. Sadr has been an influential military commander. He had close ties with Mullah Omar. He served on the Taliban’s Peshawar Regional Military Shura and was appointed to lead the Taliban’s military commission in 2014.
In 2020, Ibrahim was replaced by Mullah Yaqoub, who was named the head of the Taliban’s military commission. Ibrahim was demoted to serve as Yaqoub’s deputy. Sadr is listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist and has worked with Iran’s Qods Force to improve the Taliban’s fighting capabilities. Under the agreement, “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities,” the Treasury designation noted in 2018. 13
An ethnic Tajik, he is the acting chief of army staff. Fasihuddin commanded the Taliban’s forces in northern Afghanistan during the group’s final conquest in the spring and summer of 2021. He also led Taliban troops during the offensive in the Panjshir Valley, days after Taliban captured Kabul. The Taliban finally stormed this anti-Taliban bastion where Northern Alliance had put up some resistance against it.
Fasihuddin has served as the deputy head of the Taliban’s military commission. He has ties with foreign jihadist groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party and Jamaat Ansarullah, a Tajik terrorist organization. Fasihuddin was the Taliban’s shadow governor for Badakhshan province.14
Maulvi Abdul Hakim Sharia
He holds the important portfolio of the minister of justice. He is also known as Maulvi Abdul Hakim Ishaqzai.
He led the Taliban’s international negotiating team in Doha and headed the Taliban’s Pakistan-based shadow Supreme Court.15
He is reportedly close to the Taliban’s emir, Haibatullah Akhundzada, and studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqani, a Deobandi seminary that is often referred to as the “University of Jihad.”16
Bill Roggio, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal and Thomas Joscelyn, another Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal have painstakingly profiled some of the lesser-known faces who hold important positions in Taliban regime17:
He is the acting minister of communications. He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2001. During the Taliban’s first regime, he was the deputy minister of finance. He was the Taliban’s military commander for Kunar province as of June 2008 and worked as the shadow governor for Laghman province as of 2010.
Abdul Baqi Haqqani
He is the acting minister of higher education. During Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, he served in various positions, including as governor of Khost and Paktika provinces, and vice minister of information and culture. He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council and the European Union for activities on behalf of the Taliban both prior to and after 9/11.
Mullah Hamidullah Akhundzada
He is the acting minister of aviation and transport. He was sanctioned by the U. N. Security Council in Jan. 2001 for serving as the head of Ariana Afghan Airlines during Taliban’s first rule.
Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor
He is the acting minister of water and power. He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001, due to his role as the taliban’s minister of agriculture. He went on to fill a number of other positions, including as a “member of the Taliban Supreme Council and Head of the Council’s Political Commission as at 2009.” He was the Taliban’s shadow governor for Nangarhar province in 2009 and “a senior Taliban commander in eastern Afghanistan” one year later.
Amir Khan Muttaqi
Amir Khan Muttaqi is the acting minister of foreign affairs. Muttaqi was a member of the Taliban’s negotiating team in Doha, Qatar. Muttaqi was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001 for his role as the taliban’s minister of education.
Muttaqi was the taliban’s minister of information and culture during the pre-Oct. 2001 regime and also chief negotiator with the U.N. He later held a seat on a Taliban regional council, as well as the Taliban’s supreme council.
Maulvi Noor Mohammad Saqib
He is the acting minister of hajj and religious affairs. Saqib was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001 for his role as the chief justice of the Taliban’s supreme court. He studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqani, a Deobandi seminary that is often referred to as the “University of Jihad.” He has also been a member of the Taliban’s supreme council and head of the religious committee, “which acts as a judiciary branch of the Taliban.”
Ex-Guantanamo detainees hold senior positions within the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate
In May 2014, the Obama administration agreed to exchange five Guantánamo detainees for Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who was captured and held by the Haqqani Network. The Taliban continued to tout the exchange as a key “achievement” long after it had happened
President Obama’s own Guantanamo Review Task Force had previously assessed that all five Taliban leaders should be held pursuant to the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), as it was too risky to transfer them.
All five men now hold key positions in the Taliban’s regime. Four of them were appointed to senior posts in the Taliban’s hierarchy, while the fifth was reportedly named the governor of Khost province.
Intelligence cited by U.N. Security Council and Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the (US) detention facility in Cuba, ties all five Taliban figures to al Qaeda prior to 9/11. JTF-GTMO assessed that each of the five men was a “high” risk detainee, and “likely to pose a threat to the U.S., its interests, and allies.” At least four of the five were sanctioned by the U.N. in early 2001. The biographical information below comes from the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions pages, leaked JTF-GTMO threat assessments, or other identified sources.
Abdul Haq Wasiq
He is the acting director of intelligence. Wasiq was the deputy minister of security (intelligence) during the Taliban’s first regime. He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001.
The U.N. reported that Wasiq was a “local commander” in Nimroz and Kandahar provinces before being promoted to deputy director general of intelligence prior to 9/11. In that capacity, according to the U.N., Wasiq “was in charge of handling relations with al Qaeda-related foreign fighters and their training camps in Afghanistan.”
Wasiq’s al Qaeda ties were also documented by JTF-GTMO’s analysts. U.S. military-intelligence officials found that Wasiq “utilized his office to support al Qaeda and to assist Taliban personnel elude capture” in late 2001. Wasiq also “arranged for al Qaeda personnel to train Taliban intelligence staff in intelligence methods.”
He is the deputy defense minister. Fazl had the same role, or a similar one, in the Taliban’s first regime. He was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Feb. 2001. At the time, Fazl was the Taliban’s deputy chief of army staff.
Fazl was a “close associate” of Mullah Omar and “helped him to establish the Taliban government.” The U.N. found that Fazl “was at the Al-Farouq training camp established by Al Qaeda.” Fazl “had knowledge that the Taliban provided assistance to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan…in the form of financial, weapons and logistical support in exchange for providing the Taliban with soldiers.” The IMU worked closely with Al Qaeda at the time. Fazl also commanded a fighting force “of approximately 3,000 Taliban front-line troops in the Takhar Province in October 2001.”
According to JTF-GTMO, Fazl had “operational associations with significant Al Qaeda and other extremist personnel.” He allegedly conspired with Abdul al-Iraqi, one of Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenants and the head of Al Qaeda’s Arab 055 Brigade, to “coordinate an attack” on the Northern Alliance following the assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud in Sept. 2001.
He is the acting minister for information and culture. Khairkhwa was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001. At the time, he was the Taliban’s governor for Herat Province. He had also served as the governor Kabul province, the minister of internal affairs, and spokesperson during the Taliban’s first regime.
According to JTF-GTMO, Khairkhwa was a close confidante of Mullah Omar prior to 9/11. JTF-GTMO also cited intelligence linking Khairkhwa to Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s camps in Herat. In June 2011, a Washington D.C. district court denied Khairkhwa’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, based in large part on his admitted role in brokering a post-9/11 deal with the Iranian government. As a result of the talks mediated by Khairkhwa, the Iranians agreed to support the Taliban’s jihad against the U.S. in Afghanistan.
He is the acting minister of borders and tribal affairs. Noori was sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council in Jan. 2001. At the time, he was both the Taliban’s governor of the Balkh Province, as well as the “Head of the Northern Zone of the Taliban regime.”
According to JTF-GTMO, Noori was a “senior Taliban military commander” prior to his detention. Noori allegedly “fought alongside Al Qaeda as a Taliban military general, against the Northern Alliance” and also “hosted Al Qaeda commanders.” Along with Mohammad Fazl, Noori was suspected of committing “war crimes,” “including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims” prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Mohammad Nabi Omari
He wasn’t named to the senior staff of the Taliban’s regime, but he was reportedly appointed the new governor of Khost province. He has longstanding ties to the Haqqani Network and attended talks in Doha on its behalf.
Prior to his time in U.S. custody, according to JTF-GTMO, Omari “was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles.” Omari was allegedly a “member of a joint Al Qaeda/Taliban” cell in Khost “and was involved in attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.” He was also a “close associate” of Jalaluddin Haqqani and worked with the Haqqani Network.
Omari’s son, Abdul Haq, was killed during fighting in Khost province. Like his father, Abdul Haq reportedly fought for the Haqqani Network. The Taliban celebrated Abdul Haq’s “martyrdom” in a statement on Voice of Jihad, noting that the group’s leaders, including Akhundzada, were willing to lose their sons in their campaign to conquer Afghanistan.”
(To be continued)