MSNBC host Ronan Farrow ran a segment on Tuesday reassuring his viewers that that the five high-ranking Taliban released by the Obama administration from Guantanamo this weekend are “not al-Qaida, they’re Taliban.”
“That’s a distinction we should all be aware of, right?” he asked Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a reporter from The Washington Post.
“Indeed,” Chandrasekaran replied. “Look, Ronan, these are not good people by any stretch of the imagination. Some of them presided over the slaughter of thousands of their fellow Afghans in the late 90s, and they had some sympathies toward al-Qaida. But they were not al-Qaida leaders in and of themselves.”
“So we shouldn’t let our guard down,” Farrow later mused, “but it is true that these are not, perhaps, as Senator McCain has said, the hardest of the hardcore.”
Farrow’s segment is misleading at best. According to reports from The Long War Journal, a subset of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, the five Taliban commanders released from Guantanamo Bay possess some of the most extensive ties to al-Qaida found in their entire organization.
The reports run through each of the five ex-prisoners, revealing far more than “some sympathies” for the radical Islamist group that they harbored through most of the 1990s.
Abdul Haq Wasiq, a former senior Taliban intelligence official, arranged for top al-Qaida personnel to train Taliban commanders in intelligence methods that many went on to use against coalition forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Mullah Norullah Noori, a former military commander wanted by the United Nations as a mass-murdering war criminal, also fought with al-Qaida commanders during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s. He also passed at least one message from Taliban commander Mullah Omar to former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Mullah Mohammad Fazl, the former deputy defense secretary for the Taliban, coordinated with al-Qaida fighters in a series of campaigns against anti-Taliban rebels in the late ’90s and early ’00s. A task force at Guantanamo Bay concluded in 2008 that “if released, Fazl would likely rejoin the Taliban and establish ties with elements participating in hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, once governor of Afghanistan’s Herat province, acted as personal liaison between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, provided material support for an al-Qaida camp run by the brutal future leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and even ran another al-Qaida training camp himself.
And Mohammad Nabi Omari, a Taliban-of-all-trades nicknamed “The Butcher of Khost” for his alleged murder of over 300 people there, was a key member of a joint Taliban and al-Qaida military unit, held weekly meetings with three high level al-Qaida operatives and helped members of the terrorist group smuggle missiles from Pakistan into Afghanistan.