Afghanistan’s High Peace Council has requested the release of Khairullah Khairkhwa, a top Taliban leader, from Guantanamo. The council was set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2010 as part of his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Afghan government, the Taliban and other insurgents. Members of the council requested Khairkhwa’s release so that he could supposedly take part in possible peace talks between the Taliban and US officials in the future.
In an interview with The Telegraph (UK), Mullah Arsala Rahmani said that the council sent a written request for Khairkhwa’s release to American officials last month.
“Khairkhwa was an important man for the Taliban and his release would show the Americans are serious about negotiation. He is a good man and is well respected among the Taliban,” Rahmani, a former Taliban official, told The Telegraph.
Khairkhwa was allegedly involved in a number of nefarious activities during the Taliban’s reign, ranging from drug trafficking to overseeing one of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist training camps. [For a profile of Khairkhwa, see LWJ report: Iran and the Taliban, allies against America.]
In 1999, Khairkhwa was appointed governor of Afghanistan’s Herat province, and he held that position until the Taliban fell in late 2001. US officials allege in memos prepared at Guantanamo that Khairkhwa became a major drug trafficker with ties to senior al Qaeda leaders.
Khairkhwa reportedly built three walled compounds that he used to manage his opium trade. And he allegedly oversaw one of Osama bin Laden’s training facilities in Herat as well. One US government memo notes that only Khairkhwa or bin Laden himself “could authorize entrance” to the facility, which was one of bin Laden’s “most important bases” and “conducted terrorist training two times per week.”
During the hearings at Guantanamo, Khairkhwa denied these allegations. But it is clear that US intelligence officials did not believe Khairkhwa’s denials. The allegations were repeatedly included in memos prepared for Khairkhwa’s case.
Khairkhwa admittedly played another, more provocative role as well. According to the US government’s unclassified files, Khairkhwa was installed as the governor of Herat “to improve relations between Iran and the Taliban government” after hostilities between the two boiled over during the late 1990s.
In the hearings at Guantanamo, Khairkhwa admitted that he began meeting with the Iranians in early 2000. The US government’s unclassified documents cite at least two instances when Khairkhwa took part in meetings between senior Taliban and Iranian officials — once before and once after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Khairkhwa admitted that he set up security for the meetings.
At these meetings, according to the US government’s declassified files, the Iranians “pledged to assist the Taliban in their war with the United States.”
The Iranians reportedly agreed to supply arms, including anti-aircraft missiles, to the Taliban. During one hearing at Gitmo, Khairkhwa claimed that the arms transfer was not consummated because international sanctions made it difficult to procure the weapons. However, multiple press outlets have reported that the Iranians have in fact delivered anti-aircraft weaponry and other explosives to the Taliban.
There is no indication that American authorities are going to accede to the council’s request, according to The Telegraph.
Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD’s Long War Journal.