Afghan prisoner swap postponed, says Taliban spokesman

Recent photo of Anas Haqqani, a senior member of the Taliban's Haqqani network and younger brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, deputy leader of the Taliban and chief of The Haqqani network. (Photo supplied)
Updated 16 November 2019

Afghan prisoner swap postponed, says Taliban spokesman

  • Zabihullah Mujahid tells Arab News the Americans had yet to free Taliban detainees
  • The Afghan insurgent group is holding two university professors of American and Australian descent since 2016

ISLAMABAD: Afghan Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Friday a prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban did not take place since the Americans had not released three Taliban leaders.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced on Tuesday that three Taliban prisoners were going to be released in return for two academics of American and Australian descent who taught at the American University of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have kept the professors, Kevin King and Timothy John Weeks, in captivity since 2016.
Ghani also named the Taliban detainees who included: Anas Haqqani, brother of the Taliban deputy chief, Siraj ud Din Haqqani, his maternal uncle, Mali Khan, and Hafiz Rashid Omari, brother of the Taliban’s political negotiator, Mohammed Nabi Omari.
Mali Khan was arrested by the Americans in eastern Khost province in 2011.
Anas, who was inducted in the insurgent group’s negotiating team in February, was captured by US security officials after he visited Qatar in October 2014.
He was accompanied by another Taliban leader, Rashid, who had gone to Qatar to meet five Taliban leaders who had been freed from the Guantanamo prison. They were later handed over to the Afghan authorities.
In August 2016, an Afghanistan court had awarded Anas a death sentence.
An earlier media report suggested that Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan and had reached Qatar, where they would be handed over to the Taliban political office.
However, Mujahid told Arab News on Friday that the swap did not take place and the Taliban prisoners were still in the Bagram jail in the north of Afghan capital Kabul.
“There was an agreement that the Americans will take our prisoners to a location and in return we will release the two professors later. But they have not fulfilled their promise by taking our people to that venue. Under the circumstances, we are still holding the American and Australian professors hostage. And there is no progress in the deal so far,” the Taliban spokesman said in an audio sent to Arab News.
Experts in Afghanistan said that delay in the prisoner swap was the result of deep mistrust on all sides.
Zakir Jalai, a television commentator and Afghan peace activist, said the prisoner issue was very sensitive and the Afghan government was under intense pressure not to release Anas Haqqani.
“I think the Taliban do not trust the Americans and will not hand over the professors unless they have complete trust that the US will free the Taliban prisoners,” Jalali told Arab News from Kabul.
“The Taliban will release the professors when their prisoners are handed over,” he said, adding that both, particularly the Taliban, were very cautious in view of their mistrust of the other.
A day after President Ghani announced the swap deal, Taliban leaders sent congratulatory messages to each other and a Taliban official in an audio message, in possession of Arab News, said: “Congratulations, as the plane carrying the freed prisoners has taken off an hour ago.”
A Taliban official earlier said his incarcerated colleagues were taken out of the Bagram prison but were then locked up again in the jail.


Report: US misled public on failures in Afghanistan war

Updated 23 min 26 sec ago

Report: US misled public on failures in Afghanistan war

  • Successive US administrations suggested success where it didn't exist, Afghanistan papers show
  • More than 400 interviews of officials close to Afghan war were conducted by SIGAR over the past several years

WASHINGTON: The US government across three White House administrations misled the public about failures in the Afghanistan war, often suggesting success where it didn’t exist, according to thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Washington Post.
The documents reveal deep frustrations about America’s conduct of the Afghanistan war, including the ever-changing US strategy, the struggles to develop an effective Afghan fighting force and persistent failures to defeat the Taliban and combat corruption throughout the government.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015.
The interviews were conducted as part of a “Lessons Learned” project by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction over the past several years. SIGAR has produced seven reports so far from the more than 400 interviews, and several more are in the works. The Post sought and received raw interview data through the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits.
The documents quote officials close to the 18-year war effort describing a campaign by the US government to distort the grim reality of the war.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers, according to the Post. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
The Pentagon released a statement Monday saying there has been “no intent” by the department to mislead Congress or the public.
Defense Department officials “have consistently briefed the progress and challenges associated with our efforts in Afghanistan, and DoD provides regular reports to Congress that highlight these challenges,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a department spokesman. “Most of the individuals interviewed spoke with the benefit of hindsight. Hindsight has also enabled the department to evaluate previous approaches and revise our strategy, as we did in 2017 with the launch of the president’s South Asia strategy.”
SIGAR has frequently been vocal about the war’s failures in reports going back more than a decade, including extensive questions about vast waste in the nearly $1 trillion spent on the conflict.
The Post said that John Sopko, the head of SIGAR, acknowledged that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.” SIGAR was created by Congress in 2008 to conduct audits and investigations into waste of government spending on the war in Afghanistan.
Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to endorse the story’s findings.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted: “The war in Afghanistan is an epic bipartisan failure. I have long called for the withdrawal of US troops from that quagmire. Now it appears US officials misled the American public about the war. It is time to leave Afghanistan. Now.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said in a tweet: “775,000 of our troops deployed. 2,400 American lives lost. Over 20,000 Americans wounded. 38,000 civilians killed. Trillions spent. Rumsfeld in 2003: “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are.’”
Sarah Kreps, professor of government and international relations at Cornell University said the interviews reveal the enormous disconnect between what civilian and military leaders knew about the war and what the public knew, particularly about its costs.
The Post said that while the interviews contain few revelations about military operations in the war, they include a lot of criticism that refutes the narrative that officials often touted about progress being made.
James Dobbins, a former senior US diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama was blunt in his assessment of the war in his interview.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” The Post quoted Dobbins as saying in one of the interviews. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”