Former Gitmo detainee leads top Taliban council
Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has named two new leaders to replace the head of its leadership council, who was detained in Pakistan earlier this year. One of the two new leaders was released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in 2007.
Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur have been named by Omar to replace Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a Taliban operative named Abu Zabihullah told Newsweek.
Baradar was the second in command of the Afghan Taliban and served as the leader of the Taliban's top council, which is known as the Quetta Shura, before his capture in Karachi in February. Other members of the Quetta Shura detained in Pakistan this year in various raids include Maulvi Abdul Kabir, the leader of the Peshawar Regional Military Shura; Mullah Abdul Salam, the shadow governor of Kunduz; Mullah Mir Mohammed, the shadow governor of Baghlan province; and Mohammed Younis, the former shadow governor of Zabul province.
The appointments of Zakir and Mansur were made on March 19. According to Zabihullah, Omar replaced Baradar "to convey a good message that, despite our leader's arrest, the Taliban is back to business-as-usual operations without a problem."
Both Zakir and Mansur are well respected within the Taliban. Both men were considered top contenders to replace Baradar after his arrest. The Taliban appear to have divided Baradar's responsibilities, with Zakir taking on the role of military commander and Mansur the role of logistical and administrative leader.
Zakir is a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility who was released by the US in December 2007 and sent to Afghanistan, where he was subsequently released by the Afghan government. Zakir, whose real name is Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, quickly rejoined the Taliban and took over operations in the strategic Afghan South.
The Taliban welcomed Zakir back into the fold, and he was appointed the leader of the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a regional military command that oversees operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
The Taliban designated Zakir as their "surge commander" ; he has been assigned the task of countering the Coalition and Afghan surge of forces and change of strategy to deny the Taliban safe haven in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Zakir is considered to be one of the Afghan Taliban's fiercest and most committed commanders. [See LWJ report, "The Taliban's surge commander was Gitmo detainee" for more information on Zakir.]
The Taliban's appointment of Zakir to one of the top two leadership positions signals that the group is not interested in conducting negotiations. Zakir is considered a hardliner and close ally of al Qaeda. And, unlike Baradar, Zakir has spurned negotiations with the Afghan government.
The appointment of Zakir to this new leadership position also confirms that reports of his arrest in Pakistan were incorrect. [See LWJ report, "Afghan Taliban's 'surge commander' Zakir not in custody" ].
Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansur served as the Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001. He is known to be active in the narcotics trade in Khost, Paktika, and Paktia provinces, according to Interpol. In March 2007, Mansur was appointed the Taliban's shadow governor of Kandahar, one of the top Taliban leadership positions.
Mansur "is known be a key rear-echelon logistics man, helping to move financing, arms, and other equipment from Pakistan into the field and assisting in the evacuation of the wounded," Newsweek reported. "He also has important contacts with financial sources in the oil-rich Persian Gulf nations."
For more on the Quetta Shura, see "The Afghan Taliban's top leaders."