A former Taliban defense minister who was close to both Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden has died in Pakistani custody, according to a statement released today by the Taliban.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund “passed away in a Pakistani prison” on March 5, 2010, according to a statement released by the Taliban on their website, Voice of Jihad. Obaidullah served as the minister of defense from September 1996 until the Taliban were unseated by US forces in December 2001, and as the “deputy of [the] Islamic Emirate” from December 2001 until January 2007, when he was taken into Pakistani custody.
“The honorable Mujahid was detained by the government of Pakistan on the 3rd of January 2007 in the province of Balouchistan while on a visit after which his whereabouts were unknown for a long period of time until recently, when his family received word that two years from today, on March the 5th 2010, the mentioned person passed away from heart complications while being held in a prison in the city of Karachi,” the Taliban statement said.
“To validate this distressing news, the family has attained trustworthy evidence which confirms his passing away however it is still not established if this distinguished personality of the Islamic Ummah and Afghanistan passed away due to heart complications or if he was martyred due to torture while being imprisoned,” the statement continued.
The Taliban said it would “hold the International Red Cross responsible” for failing to get word to the family of his death for nearly two years.
While serving as Minister of Defense during Taliban rule of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, Obaidullah permitted al Qaeda to establish military camps where fighters were trained to battle the Northern Alliance as well as conduct terrorist operations outside Afghanistan.
One of the most infamous of these camps was Al Farouq, a military camp run by a Saudi named Abdul Quduz, where hundreds of al Qaeda operatives trained, including four of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Another notorious camp was Darunta, actually a network of four camps, which included one run by al Qaeda chemical weapons and explosive expert Abu Khabab al Masri and another run by the Blind Sheikh’s son, Assadalah Abdul Rahman. Still another well-known terror camp was Khalden, a military camp run by al Qaeda leaders Ibn al Shaykh al Libi and Abu Zubaydah, where dozens of al Qaeda operatives received instruction, including three of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Rounding out the list of top al Qaeda training camps that were established in Afghanistan is Tarnak Farms, which also served as a home to Osama bin Laden.
After the fall of the Taliban regime, Obaidullah functioned as Mullah Omar’s second in command, and directed military operations against Coalition and Afghan forces. He also served as a member of the Taliban’s Shura Mujlis, or executive council. He was based in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, a known haven for Taliban leaders and fighters.
The Pakistani military detained Obaidullah in early 2007 while then-Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting the country. Sometime before November 2007, Obaidullah was released along with several other Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leaders in exchange for over 200 Pakistani soldiers who had been captured in August 2007 by South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud.
The Pakistani military reportedly re-arrested Obaidullah in early 2008 while he was fundraising for the Taliban in Baluchistan. US intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that Obaidullah had not been imprisoned but was being held by the Pakistani military “in protective custody.”