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Taliban appoints fmr. Guantanamo prisoner as defense minister, report says

Taliban fighters. (Department of Defense photo by Lt. j. g. Joe Painter)
August 24, 2021

The Taliban has appointed former Guantanamo Bay detainee mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir as acting defense minister, Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing Al Jazeera.

According to Guantanamo Bay transfer documents, Zakir (who also goes by Abdullah Gulam Rasoul, Abdullah Rasoul and Ghullam Rasoul) was captured in Afghanistan on November 28, 2001, and he arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002.

Zakir was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay from 2002 to 2007. According to a January 2012 report by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Zakir was transferred to a prison in Afghanistan in December 2007 after a review board determined deemed him to be “no longer a threat.” He claimed during his review board, “I want to go back home and join my family and work in my land and help my family.”

Zakir was transferred from Guantanamo Bay to the maximum-security wing of Pul-e-Charkhi prison, which had been designed to hold high-risk detainees who had been released from Guantanamo Bay. Shortly after being transferred to Afghanistan, however, Zakir was released. The 2012 HASC report said, “The circumstances of this action remain cloudy.”

While Afghanistan’s deputy attorney general has claimed that Zakir “went before an Afghan court, which ruled he had served his time,” the 2012 HASC report shared speculation from some Afghan officials that Zakir was released following pressure from Afghan tribal elders. One U.S. attorney believed said “tribal loyalties” seemed to “count for more than innocence or guilt” in Zakir’s case.

By 2009, the Department of Defense had determined Zakir had returned to prominence within the Taliban as the leader in charge of operations against U.S. and Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

“It is widely acknowledged that he became Mullah Omar’s top military commander and has masterminded lethal operations against coalition troops in Helmand province,” the 2012 HASC report stated. “In early 2009, a U.S. intelligence official said that Zakir’s stated mission was to “counter the U.S. troop surge.”

The reporting that Zakir will now serve as an acting defense minister for the Taliban government comes just over a week after the Taliban took over the city of Kabul, which had served as the capital of the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

The Taliban has provided few specifics in the last week about how they will govern, though a Taliban official said the group would announce the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the formal name of the Taliban government when it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, before falling to U.S. forces invading Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.