Taliban Appoints Former Guantanamo Bay Detainee to Lead Fight in Panjshir

The Taliban named Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir as its military commander in the restive central Afghan province of Panjshir. Zakir, who was held at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility for six years, is considered to be one of the Taliban’s most effective and dangerous military commanders.

Zakir’s appointment to lead the fight against the National Resistance Front (NRF) in Panjshir and the district of Andarab in the neighboring province of Baghlan was announced on Aug. 21 by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

The Taliban’s naming of Zakir to combat the National Resistance Front, which is led by Ahmad Massoud, is a clear indication that the NRF is challenging the Taliban’s primacy in central and northern Afghanistan. FDD’s Long War Journal has compiled information on the fighting, and assesses seven districts as contested (four in Panjshir, two in Baghlan, and one in Takhar) and 14 more as having significant guerrilla activity.

Zakir, who is also known as Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul, was captured in Afghanistan in December of 2001 and transferred to Afghanistan six years later in December of 2007. He quickly rejoined the Taliban and was appointed to senior positions in the Taliban’s military structure in the south.

After he was released by the Afghan government in 2008, Zakir served as the head of the Taliban’s Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a military command that oversaw operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. In this capacity, he worked closely with Al Qaeda.

Zakir led the fight against the U.S. surge in the south, and in 2010 was appointed as the head of the Taliban’s military commission. He resigned in 2014 but remained on the Taliban’s Quetta Shura and led military forces in the south. Zakir played a key role in organizing the Taliban’s military and directing its strategy of contesting and seizing rural districts in the south in preparation for the Taliban’s push to take control of the population centers in the summer of 2021.

In 2020, Zakir was appointed to serve as a deputy to military commission chief Mullah Yacoub, the son of Mullah Omar who also serves as one of the Taliban’s two deputy emirs along with Sirajuddin Haqqani. After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2021, Zakir was appointed as the Taliban’s deputy minister of defense.

For more information on Mullah Zakir, see LWJ reports, The Taliban’s surge commander was Gitmo detainee and The Taliban’s surge commander was Gitmo detainee.

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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