President Barack Obama having not succeeded in keeping his promise to close Gitmo within a year of becoming president is now resorting to a different tactic. He is releasing Gitmo inmates, and not just any Gitmo terrorist, but top Taliban intelligence official who kept Stinger missiles and uranium at his farm. Mohammed Zahir was a leading Taliban weapons supplier, according to his official Guantanamo file, leaked three years ago to The Telegraph by the Wikileaks hacker group.
“Detainee was arrested on suspicion of possessing weapons including Stinger missiles and uranium, which detainee’s recovered documents indicate was intended for use in a nuclear device,” Zahir’s threat assessment read.
The release followed a request by Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, and were said to be a sign of the US’s greater confidence in the Afghan authorities since he replaced Hamid Karzai, the former president originally backed by Washington but with whom relations had soured.
“The United States is grateful to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for its willingness to support ongoing U.S. efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” the Pentagon statement said.
“The United States coordinated with the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to ensure these transfers took place consistent with appropriate security and humane treatment measures.”
The Afghans gave “security guarantees” over the four but there is no requirement that they be held and they are said to be likely to be returned to their families.
More than half the remaining inmates are Yemenis, whose return is being hampered by the country’s current three-way civil war between the government, Al-Qaeda and Shia Houthi rebels.
Zahir and the other three men, two of them members of militias linked to the Taliban, were released after their threat level was dramatically reduced.
According to a Pentagon statement released on Saturday, they were flown overnight to Kabul and handed over to the Afghan authorities, but it did not give a reason. However, the Associated Press news agency quoted a “senior official” saying that “most, if not all, of the terrorism accusations against the men had been discarded and each is considered a low-level operative at best”.
President Barack Obama promised to close the Guantanamo Bay internment facility within a year of becoming president, but had to backtrack amid uncertainty over what to do with its hundreds of inmates.
After a series of releases, some to third countries, 132 now remain. Six other prisoners were sent to Uruguay earlier this month. This is the first group to be returned to Afghanistan since 2009.
Some former inmates, especially a celebrated group of Saudi jihadis known as “Batch 10” who were repatriated in 2007, have rejoined al-Qaeda. However, subsequent releases have been deemed low risk.
Zahir was said when recommended for continued detention seven years ago to be a “veteran high-level member of the Taliban Intelligence Directorate” as well as having links to narcotics smuggling.