Yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby cast a positive light on jihadists from the Taliban and al Qaeda who have been released from Guantanamo and have returned to wage jihad. The topic came up in the discussion of an airstrike that killed Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim, a senior Taliban commander who was detained at Guantanamo from 2001 to 2007, released to Afghan custody and freed in 2009, and returned to the Taliban shortly afterward to assume the role of a senior military commander up until his defection to the Islamic State earlier this year. Below is the exchange, from the Pentagon’s transcript:
Q: Why was he released?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Joe, I don’t have the records on this guy from — from Guantanamo Bay.
Yes, he was a detainee. He was released in 2007. He was released to Kabul.
The other thing that we’ve said — and this is another great example, because we had a long, you know, discussion not too long ago about the — the recidivism and particularly the issue of this — this one individual who reengaged there in Qatar, and we said that they return to the battlefield and to the fight at their own peril. Mr. Kadim is proof of that.
Kirby’s statement that Khadim’s death should be viewed as a positive is cold comfort to the hundreds of Afghans, Americans, and Coalition personnel who were killed while Khadim commanded forces in southern Afghanistan. The jihadist was able to operate for more than six years as a top level Taliban commander and has the blood of thousands on his hands.
Khadim and Mullah Zakir, another Guantanamo alum (who is still alive; he “resigned due to ill health,” according to the Taliban) were responsible for implementing the Taliban’s counter-surge strategy. While the the jihadist group failed to halt Coalition and Afghan forces’ gains in the south from 2009 to 2011 (gains which are now melting away), at least 875 Coalition members were killed during the fighting in Kandahar (273 killed) and Helmand (602 killed) during that time period, according to iCasualties (note, data on Coalition members killed by province after 2011 is not available on the iCasualties website). The number of Afghan security personnel and civilians killed in Kandahar and Helmand by the Taliban during that timeframe is not available, but is likely in the thousands.
Despite this, Kirby doubles down and says Guantanamo should be closed, which means even more jihadists will be freed.
Q: After seeing such example, like former Guantanamo detainee who was released and went back to the — to work with the Taliban, is the Pentagon still convinced that Guantanamo should be closed?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes. The Pentagon’s position is that the detainee facility should be closed. Secretary Hagel has made that clear on any number of occasions. There’s no change to that.