Political Division Over Effect Of Swapping 5 Detainees For POW

In exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. transferred five detainees from Guantanamo to Qatar. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Kabul correspondent Sean Carberry about the swap.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

In exchange for the release of Bowe Bergdahl, the U.S. transferred five Taliban detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to the Gulf state of Qatar. There the five will spend the next year under a travel ban. A number of U.S. politicians oppose the release of the detainees on the grounds that it sets a precedent for future kidnappings and that they could ultimately return to fighting. NPR's Sean Carberry joins us now from Kabul to discuss who these five high-ranking Taliban are. And Sean, let's go through the list. First off, who's the most significant?

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Well, that would be Mullah Khirullah Khairkhwa. He's one of the founding members of the Taliban. He was a refugee growing up in Pakistan and doesn't really have much of a formal education, though he's actually described as extremely intelligent. And he held a number of positions during the Taliban rule, such as spokesman, interior minister and governor of the western province of Herat. And he's alleged to have had direct association with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, who's the head of the Taliban. And his file also says he was friends with President Hamid Karzai. And he was picked up in early 2002.

RATH: OK, so who is next in the top tier?

CARBERRY: Next would be Norullah Noori. He was captured in the fall of 2001. And he also held a number of civilian posts in the Taliban regime - including the Governor of Northern Balkh Province. And his file states that he also commanded Taliban forces in northern Afghanistan, even though he claims he never had any military training. And also his file states the U.N. suspects he was involved in the murder of thousands of Afghan Shiites.

RATH: And there's a third man who is a high-ranking political figure as well right? That's Abdul Haq Wasiq.

CARBERRY: Correct. And he's currently in his early forties and studied at Madrassas, in Pakistan. And he ultimately became the deputy head of Taliban intelligence. His cousin was actually the intelligence chief at the time. And Wasiq was captured in a sting operation in the fall of 2001. And when he was captured, he claimed to have been trying to help the U.S. capture Mullah Omar. But he's also accused of having Al-Qaida members train Taliban intelligence and having ties to a number of other Islamist groups.

RATH: So those first three were part of the Taliban's actual government. The other two, Mullah Fazil Mazlum and Abdul Nabi Omari, were fighters. Tell us about them.

CARBERRY: Yeah, Fazil spent time in the Taliban really exclusively in military positions. He served as deputy defense minister and Taliban army chief of staff. And he was regarded as a powerful commander who was accused of overseeing a number of massacres and abuses, and he's also implicated by the U.N. in the murder of Afghan Shiites.

RATH: And what do we know about Abdul Nabi Omari?

CARBERRY: He also studied at Madrassas in Pakistan and fought against the Soviets in the 1980s. And then he returned to Pakistan for a while for further religious training. He bounced in and out of the Taliban government and claims he was actually recruited by the CIA in 2002 to help find Mullah Omar and Al-Qaida members. And he's arguably the least significant of the five detainees, but it appears he was released because of his connections to the Haqqani network, who are aligned with the Taliban and based in Pakistan. And they're the ones actually believed to have been holding Bergdahl for much of his time in captivity.

RATH: So what is the risk these men are going to return to the fight?

CARBERRY: Well, the terms of the agreement between the U.S. and Qatar say that the Gulf state will host them for a year and prevent their travel outside the country. After that, Qatar is to help provide continued monitoring of these five detainees. And, you know, in the past some detainees released from Guantanamo have returned to battle field. The analysts we spoke with suspect that of these, that Fazil Mazlum and Nabi Omari could return to fighting since that's all they ever really knew as Taliban. But the hope is that at least the other three will play a role in motivating or facilitating peace talks with the Taliban.

RATH: That's NPR's Sean Carberry on the line from Kabul. Sean, thank you.

CARBERRY: You're welcome, Arun.

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