One of the five Taliban leaders released by the U.S. in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in May “was a petty tyrant who justified his psychopathic behavior using a veneer of religion,” says the director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council.
But Mullah Mohammad Fazl, who was released with four other Taliban commanders, probably will not return to the battlefield before the end of his one-year supervision in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, said the director, Army Col. Mark Mitchell, a Green Beret who helped capture the Taliban leader in the early days of the war in Afghanistan.
“Stripped of his power and authority, [Fazl] was pathetic and contemptible,” Col. Mitchell said in a recent interview. “I have no doubt that he remains a psychopath, and he’s probably a danger to fellow Afghans.
“But he and his fellow prisoners have been off the battlefield for 12 years. In that time, Afghanistan has changed, the Taliban has changed and other leaders have risen through the ranks while he’s been enjoying a comfortable, if highly structured, life at [the U.S. military detention facility at] Guantanamo Bay,” he said. “So, it won’t be as simple as simply walking back through the door and picking up where he left off. There’s lots of Afghans, probably even a few Talibs, that have no desire to see him back in Afghanistan, much less in any kind of position of authority.”
The Obama administration released Fazl and the four other Taliban commanders May 31 in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl, who had been a Taliban prisoner since 2009. The Taliban leaders were taken to Qatar, which will supervise them for one year.
“I’m comfortable with the restrictions that the Qataris have placed upon [Fazl] and these other detainees that have been released,” Col. Mitchell said. “And again, I don’t think there’s going to be much likelihood that they’re going to get back into Afghanistan any time before that year’s up.”
“I think the Qataris are more than capable of keeping an eye on these guys, and upholding their end of the bargain,” he added.
A senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the administration “wouldn’t have done the exchange without sufficient risk mitigation as required under the law.
“Our discussions with and the assurances of the emir gave sufficient risk mitigation, that the government of Qatar will be able to monitor the detainees for the next year,” the official said.
Asked what happens after the one-year supervision ends, the official said: “A year from now, Afghanistan will be a very different place, with a very different security apparatus in place.”
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