Influential Taliban commanders appointed to key positions in new regime

The Taliban tapped two important military commanders, one who is a former detainee at Guantanamo Bay and the other who worked closely with Iran’s Qods Force, to serve as deputies in the interior and defense ministries.

The Taliban appointed former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir as a deputy minister of defense, while Ibrahim Sadr (or Sadar) was named a deputy minister of the interior for security. The two powerful military commanders, who previously served as the head of the Taliban’s military commission between 2010 and 2020, were not given postings in the initial round of cabinet appointments that were announced on Sept. 7.

Sadr will serve under Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Minister of Interior, who is arguably the most powerful and influential Taliban leader in the country. Sirajuddin is also one of two deputy emirs, and leads the potent Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network, which influenced the course of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Zakir will serve under Mullah Yacoub, the Minister of Defense who is the son of Taliban founder and first emir Mullah Omar. Yacoub is the other deputy emir of Taliban.

Their appointments to the important ministries of defense and interior end questions on whether the two commanders would be given significant positions within the Taliban’s new government.

Additionally, Zakir and Sadr join a long list of historical Taliban leaders, many whom have served the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s government from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban’s new government looks much like it did 20 years ago.

Mullah Zakir

Zakir (also known as Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul) is considered to be one of the Afghan Taliban’s fiercest and most committed commanders. He is also one of several senior Taliban leaders who are closely linked to Al Qaeda. [See LWJ reports, The Taliban’s surge commander was Gitmo detainee and Former Gitmo detainee leads top Taliban council, for more information on Zakir.]

After the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Zakir was picked up by forces loyal to warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum in Dec. 2001 and handed over to U.S. forces, who sent him to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. While at Guantanamo, Zakir maintained he was an innocent man who was not connected to the Taliban. In 2007, Zakir was transferred from Guantanamo to Afghan custody and detained at the prison in Bagram for a short period of time. Upon release by the Afghan government in May 2008, Zakir rejoined the Taliban.

The Taliban immediately welcomed Zakir back into its ranks, and he was appointed the leader of the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a military command that oversees operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. As the leader of this regional shura, Zakir interacted with Al Qaeda, as the terror group was operating alongside the Taliban in both provinces.

In 2010, as the U.S. military and NATO surged its forces in an attempt to defeat the Taliban, Zakir was tapped by the Taliban to counter Western forces in the south, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar. He was also named the commander of the Taliban’s military forces that year.

Zakir resigned as the head of the Taliban’s military commission in April 2014 “due to his prolonged battle with ill health,” according to a statement released by the Taliban. But it was rumored at the time that Zakir and Taliban emir Mullah Mansour were at odds over Taliban strategy and negotiations with the Afghan government. Although Zakir resigned as the Taliban’s military commander, he is still “a member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate and is busy working in other important Jihadi works which are comparatively easier,” the Taliban said at the time. [See LWJ reports, Head of Taliban’s military commission resigns due to ‘ill health’ and Taliban: Mullah Zakir denies reports he called for negotiations with the West.]

After Mullah Mansour was named as Mullah Omar’s successor in 2015, the Taliban immediately issued a statement claiming that Zakir remained a member of the Quetta Shura and did not oppose its new emir, as was rumored in the press. Zakir formally swore allegiance to Mansour in March 2015 and reaffirmed his support in July 2016. In April 2016, the Taliban issued a statement from Zakir that denied he sought to negotiate with the U.S. and Afghan government.

In 2020, Zakir was named as deputy to Mullah Yacoub, who was named the head of the Taliban’s military commission.

Sadr Ibrahim

Ibrahim rose through the ranks of the Taliban by his close relationships with Omar and Mansour. However, he is considered a formidable military commander by his own right. Ibrahim commanded forces in Kandahar, the northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar, as well as Kabul. In the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, Ibrahim served as a deputy defense minister.

After the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Ibrahim served on the Taliban’s Peshawar Regional Military Shura. Ibrahim was appointed to lead the Taliban’s military commission in 2014.

In 2018, the seven member nations of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (including the U.S.) sanctioned Ibrahim “for acting for or on behalf of the Taliban.” Ibrahim worked with the Iranians to secure support for the Taliban.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with monetary support and individualized training in order to prevent a possible tracing back to Iran,” Treasury noted in its designation of Ibrahim. “Iranian trainers would help build Taliban tactical and combat capabilities.”

In 2020, Ibrahim was replaced by Mullah Yacoub, who was named the head of the Taliban’s military commission. Ibrahim was demoted to serve as Yacoub’s deputy. The Taliban routinely moved its military leaders into different positions during its two decade-long insurgency from 2001 to 2021.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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