Held as prisoners of war by the US for 13 years, the Taliban five were long-term Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay and formerly high-ranking members of the then Taliban government who were released by Barack Obama in 2014 in exchange for United States Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
They have been described as “the hardest of the hard-core" by the US intelligence. They were deemed “high" risk to the United States and were recommended for “continued detention".
Interestingly, the same people, the Taliban five, were involved in peace talks to end the conflict in Afghanistan with the US in March 2019.
In 2019, as the American and Taliban took up intense negotiations to try to end the conflict in Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership made a point of including the former prisoners. Each day during the round of talks in Doha, Qatar, the five men sat face to face with American diplomats and generals.
The five former Guantánamo detainees had varying roles during the Taliban government. Mullah Khairkhwa served as a governor and acting minister of interior. Abdul Haq Wasiq was deputy minister of intelligence.
Perhaps the most infamous figure in the group is Mullah Fazel Mazloom, a front-line commander who was also chief of the Taliban army. While accusations of human rights abuses by the others have generally remained vague, there seems to be considerably more evidence against Mullah Mazloom, who is accused of mass killings and scorched-earth brutality.
According to a report by The New York Times, the men’s Guantánamo files include several notations about uncooperative behavior and instigations, including throwing milk at guards and tearing up their mattresses in protest.
The report also says that Mullah Khairkhwa, according to his Guantánamo documents, was accused of narcotics trafficking and of closely associating with Osama bin Laden’s men in Al Qaeda. He denied both accusations in his hearings.
Now, as Taliban takes over Kabul and looks set to form a government, there are reports that these five men may have been the masterminds behind the annexation.