Wednesday, September 1, 2021

How Prisoner Releases Bolstered the Taliban To Victory

Jake Simkin
As Taliban member Mawlawi navigated the narrow, ancient streets of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif last week — driving my photographer Jake Simkin and me to a foreign consulate to maneuver our way out of the fallen country — one of his first comments was a nonchalant reference to the time he spent as a prisoner at the notorious Bagram Air Base.
“Nine years there,” he said breezily, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
Former prisoners like Mawlawi have become a more common presence in the country, aiding a robust and emboldened Taliban and contributing to the group’s dizzyingly fast takeover of Afghanistan.
The re-entry of thousands of Taliban prisoners has intensified since US forces abandoned the eponymous base in July and handed it back to the government, which then fled the Taliban onslaught with few shots fired.
NCS Afghanistan
Disgruntled Afghans point to a prisoner release deal inked between the US and the Taliban in February 2020 as a key contributor in the group’s rise to victory. The agreement mandated that the Afghan government — which was not directly party to the “peace” talks — free up to 5,000 Taliban fighters in government prisons before March 10 of last year.
The US side vowed that it was “committed to start immediately to work with all relevant sides on a plan to expeditiously release combat and political prisoners.” The olive branch was heralded as a “confidence-building measure,” and the Taliban were expected to let 1,000 Afghans out of the jails that they controlled at the time.
Before being let loose, the Taliban prisoners are said to have signed pledges not to participate in combat against the government, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense spokesperson said at the time.
Such pieces of paper did little to stop the flood back to the battlefield.
According to one high-ranking National Directorate of Security (NDS) official I met within Kabul’s presidential palace four days before the capital crumbled earlier this month, more than 80 percent of the freed Taliban commenced either combat or planning operations with the group.
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