Travel and communication restrictions for the five GITMO Taliban detainees released in exchange for Beau Bergdahl are set to expire on Monday, June 1. The original release of these detainees, and the reasoning behind it, has been the subject of much consternation and debate from a political, as well as a national defense perspective.
Homeland Security Today opened the debate with an article shortly after their release, in which the danger posed to American security was considered.
Editor’s note: See the report, There Will be Blood: Freeing the Vilest of the Vile from GITMO.
In light of the fact that one or more of the detainees had to be placed under heightened surveillance this past year because of repeated attempts to contact former Islamic jihadists brothers, few analysts will seriously argue that these men pose no threat to America and American allies. Members of President Obama’s State Department admitted at the time of the release that their rejoining the fight was virtually inevitable.
Few, however, expected the detainees to be so brazen as to initiate contact while still under surveillance. The fact that they did so says a great deal about their lack of concern for repercussions, as well as Qatar’s lack of ability or lack of willingness to serve as monitor of these or future detainees. It should come as little surprise that Qatar or any other country volunteering to host jihadists of pre-release is going to show no more concern than that demonstrated by America.
The general consensus at this point is that those among the original five detainees who are physically capable will in some way rejoin the jihadist effort. There is very little reason for them to choose to do otherwise. When they return to the fold, they will be welcomed as triumphant over the enemy — their stature among jihadists, that of martyr and hero, will only increase, and in light of America’s overt desire to be rid of them, it is highly unlikely they will be detained again, regardless of what they do. Few in the intelligence community expect anything else. The question is not “if,” but “when.”
The principal issue of concern at this point is the overall affect these, and future released detainees, will have on the world stage, vis-à-vis the global war on terrorism. In considering this, a cursory examination of the current state of affairs relating to active extremist organizations should be made.
These particular detainees were most active in Afghanistan and western Pakistan prior to their detention. They will return to these areas, and reacquaint themselves with their former Taliban and Al-Qaeda associates. It is where they will be of maximum use. The greatest concern for counterterrorism analysts is that this geographical area, at this point, is where the spread and strengthening of ISIS will occur. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are both threats, and will continue to be so. But, if ISIS is successful in forming alliances with either of these groups, as they are currently attempting to do, the war on terror will enter an entirely new and more dangerous era.
In view of this, it is important to note that ISIS is making inroads into Afghanistan. Their recruitment efforts, most will agree, are bearing fruit. ISIS is concentrating recruitment in former Taliban stronghold areas such as Mullah Mohammad Omar’s old homeland, the Helmand Province, and in and around Kandahar.
At one point recently, it was assumed that a rivalry between ISIS and the Taliban would preclude widespread recruitment success, but with the election of Ashraf Ghani, a pro-Westerner as president, members of the Taliban see themselves as dissafected, with diminished political power. President Ghani is also widely seen as the antithesis of fundamental Islam, extremely pro-Western, and therefore a significant threat to the ideals of the Taliban. Joining forces with ISIS is seen more and more as not only a viable option, but a religiously pure thing to do.
Connections to the Helmand Province area among the Taliban five and other freeing of GITMO detainees such as Mullah Abdul Rauf, will prove invaluable recruitment tools. The “hero” status of those once held at GITMO will be capitalized upon, just as American recruitment efforts in the past have used American military heroes in much the same way.
The philosophical and operational barriers that once stood between the Taliban and groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda are diminishing at an alarming rate. In northern Afghanistan, where the Taliban was once soundly defeated, ISIS is also gaining ground and adding to its rank and file.
This month, in the Northern Province of Kunduz, a Taliban insurgency assisted by ISIS fighters displaced thousands. ISIS fighters are "supporting the Taliban, training the Taliban [and] trying to build the capacity of the Taliban for a bigger fight," provincial governor Mohammed Omar Safi said.
Additionally, one of the five Taliban detainees, Mullah Norullah Noori, was a senior Taliban commander in nearby Balkh Province around Mazar-e-Shariff. He was also a close associate of Supreme Taliban Commander Mullah Mohammad Omar. The recruitment benefit of men such as this for an ISIS/Taliban coalition is immeasurable.
Another one of the five Taliban leaders released by the Obama administration, Khair Wali, had strong connections with Usama Bin Laden. Bin Laden was held in great reverence by ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. Use of individuals such as Wali to recruit for ISIS will be invaluable in breaking down any resistance from Al Qaeda and former Taliban members over such an alliance.
The simple recruitment benefit gained by ISIS from association with GITMO detainees will be immeasurable in forming deadly alliances among Islamist extremist groups. These individuals need not even pick up a weapon to be of the utmost value.
Additionally, the message members of these terror groups get from seeing released detainees is, “If you are captured, all you have to do is persevere and you will eventually be released and your stature enhanced greatly.” If we know one thing about Islamist jihadists, it is they are extremely patient and tenacious.
President Obama is, however, right about one thing: detention at GITMO is beneficial as a recruitment tool for Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS. But the benefit is only available when the detainees are released. Those who fight with ISIS, or are considering fighting with ISIS, see capture and detention as less and less of a concern.
Americans need to understand one thing: The ultimate objective of ever-strengthening groups like ISIS is the subjugation of the entire world under Sharia law. Battles to defeat ISIS may be taking place primarily in Iraq and Syria, but only the extremely foolish will cavalierly proclaim this as “an Iraqi or Syrian problem.” And while the political implications of prematurely releasing detainees from GITMO may be taking center stage, the real danger lies in the morale boost and the recruitment enhancement ISIS and other Islamic terror group’s gain from welcoming the Taliban 5 into their jihadi ranks.
Indeed, the benefit of a released GITMO jihadist to groups like ISIS is enormously beneficial, regardless of whether the released jihadist picks up a gun and returns to the fight. The fact that a detainee, once captured on the battlefield fighting against America, will one day see the light and walk away a free man is encouraging to those who are considering taking up arms against America and its Western allies.
America originally indicated its willingness to defeat an appalling enemy like ISIS in many ways, among which was to demonstrate its determination to hold indefinitely those who have shown an intent to do us harm.
Today, though, opposite is unfortunately the reality. Each time another detainee walks out of GITMO, his clenched fist raised in victory, ISIS is strengthened in its efforts to subjugate the world.
Contributing Writer Godfrey Garner is a veteran special operations counterintelligence officer who retired from US Special Forces in 2006. He served two military tours and six civilian government related tours in Afghanistan. His work there most recently was as a counter-corruption analyst.
Editor’s note: Also read the Homeland Security Today reports: ‘Taliban 5’ Members Said Trying to Re-engage Jihad Networks Puts All Freed, Dangerous Jihadists in Spotlight, Better the Devil You Know? Jihadism Without Al Zawahiri, If Jihadi Groups Form Alliances, Threat to West Will be Unprecedented, The Potential that Jihadi Groups will Unify … and With it, More Savagery, and, Obama Schedules ‘Violent Extremism’ Summit, But Still Unable to Acknowledge Islamist Jihad.
Also read the Homeland Security Today report, Obama Schedules ‘Violent Extremism’ Summit, But Still Unable to Acknowledge Islamist Jihad, by Senior Editor Amanda Vicinanzo and Editor-in-Chief Anthony Kimery.