Nurullah Nuri

Nurullah Nuri is a U.N.-sanctioned Taliban senior leader who commanded Taliban military forces during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.David Blair, “Five pillars of the old Taliban regime,” June 1, 2014, Telegraph (London), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/10868068/Five-pillars-of-old-Taliban-regime.html. A former detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Nuri later joined the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2014.Barnett R. Rubin, “Constitutional Issues in the Afghan Peace Negotiations: Process and Substance,” United States Institute of Peace, November 2020, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/20201116-sr_488-constitutional_issues_in_the_afghan_peace_negotiations_process_and_substance-sr.pdf. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Nuri was named the minister of border and tribal affairs of the Taliban government on September 7.“Taliban forms 33-member cabinet in Afghanistan: Full list,” Hindustan Times, September 8, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/taliban-forms-33-member-cabinet-in-afghanistan-full-list-101631066722518.html.

From 2000 to 2001, Nuri was the governor of numerous provinces under the control of the Taliban. Nuri is implicated in the summary execution of ethnic Uzbeks in Balkh in May 2001 and of at least 31 ethnic Hazara civilians and Shiite Muslim detainees at Robatak Pass, in north central Afghanistan, in May 2000.“Afghanistan: Three Afghan Commanders Should Be Prosecuted,” Human Rights Watch, December 3, 2001, https://www.hrw.org/news/2001/12/03/afghanistan-three-afghan-commanders-should-be-prosecuted;
“Massacre at Robatak Pass, May 2000,” Human Rights Watch, 2001, https://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/afghanistan/afghan101-04.htm;
Lolita C. Baldor, “Lawmakers worry prisoner swap sets a troubling precedent,” Public Broadcasting Service, June 2, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/lawmakers-worry-prisoner-swap-sets-troubling-precedent/.
Nuri was an associate of former Taliban emir (leader) Mohammed Omar, and was at one point one of 25 Taliban officials who met with Omar most frequently.“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf. Given Nuri’s leadership role in the Taliban, the U.N. Security Council sanctioned Nuri on January 25, 2001.“NURULLAH NURI,” United Nations, January 25, 2001, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1988/materials/summaries/individual/nurullah-nuri.

Nuri was captured by the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in November 2001 and detained in the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention center from January 2002 to May 2014.“S E C R E T / / NOFORN / / 20330223,” U.S. Department of Defense, February 23, 2008, http://media.miamiherald.com/static/images/escenic-images/gitmopdfs/us9af-000007dp.pdf. Six years after his capture, a February 2008 security assessment by the U.S. Department of Defense deemed that Nuri continued to pose a high risk to the United States, its interests, and allies.

On May 31, 2014, Nuri was released from Guantanamo Bay along with four other Taliban prisoners, including U.N.-designated Taliban operatives Fazl Mohammad Mazlooma and Abdul Haq Wasiq.Mushtaq Yusufzai, “Freed Taliban Commander Tells Relative He’ll Fight Americans Again,” NBC News, June 6, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bowe-bergdahl-released/freed-taliban-commander-tells-relative-hell-fight-americans-again-n124451. The release of the so-called “Taliban Five,” brokered by Qatar, was conducted in exchange for U.S. Army sergeant Robert Bowdrie “Bowe” Bergdahl, who had been captured by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in June 2009.Mushtaq Yusufzai, “Freed Taliban Commander Tells Relative He’ll Fight Americans Again,” NBC News, June 6, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bowe-bergdahl-released/freed-taliban-commander-tells-relative-hell-fight-americans-again-n124451; “Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf. According to the Times of Oman, Nuri is “the most controversial” of the “Taliban Five.”“Many Afghans oppose release of Taliban officials,” Times of Oman, June 2, 2014, http://timesofoman.com/article/35230/World/Many-Afghans-oppose-release-of-Taliban-officials. Former U.S. Presidential candidate and Senator for Arizona John McCain also described Nuri and the “Taliban Five” as “the hardest of the hard-core.”Lolita C. Baldor, “Lawmakers worry prisoner swap sets a troubling precedent,” Public Broadcasting Service, June 2, 2014, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/lawmakers-worry-prisoner-swap-sets-troubling-precedent/.

At the time of the their transfer, the so-called Taliban Five—including Nuri—were considered to be sufficiently dangerous as to require them to remain in detention.“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf. Although the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States and Qatar was classified regarding the terms for Taliban detainees released to Qatar, the U.S. Armed Forces Committee was able to note that the MOU specified “monitoring” efforts to be undertaken by Qatar, as well as the prohibition against detainees’ “travel outside Qatar,” “engaging in conduct that will raise money for prohibited causes,” and “threatening American interests.”“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, 76, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf.

According to a December 2015 report by the Committee on Armed Services, the U.S. intelligence community determined that Nuri was a “natural” although not necessarily “effective leader among the Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainees.“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf.

After arriving in Doha, Qatar, a Taliban commander who is also Nuri’s relative claimed that Nuri insisted he “would go to Afghanistan and fight American forces there.”Mushtaq Yusufzai, “Freed Taliban Commander Tells Relative He’ll Fight Americans Again,” NBC News, June 6, 2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/bowe-bergdahl-released/freed-taliban-commander-tells-relative-hell-fight-americans-again-n124451. The U.S. Committee on Armed Services determined in December 2015 that members of the Taliban Five have indeed been engaged in “threatening activities” since their transfer to Qatar “not unlike their activities before they were detained on the battlefield.”“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf. In January 2015, the U.S. Pentagon said that there was reason to believe that “at least one” member of the Taliban Five was involved in “some activities… centered around potential reengagement.” In March 2015, a news outlet reported that “at least three of the five Taliban leaders… have tried to plug back into their old terror networks.”“Report on the Inquiry into: The Department of Defense’s May 2014 Transfer to Qatar of five law-of-war detainees in connection with the recovery of a captive U.S. soldier,” Committee on Armed Services, December 9, 2015, 75, https://armedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/wysiwyg_uploaded/Report%20on%20the%20Inquiry%20into%20the%20Taliban%20Five%20Transfer_0.pdf.

The released Taliban leaders were reportedly living in an exclusive neighborhood in suburban Doha, receiving luxury SUVs, free medical care, air-conditioned homes “the size of small castles,” and fresh produce delivered daily to their homes, according to a report by Newsweek journalist Sami Yousafzai.Sami Yousafzai, “Taliban Leaders Are Living in Luxury in Qatar,” Newsweek, March 24, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/2015/04/03/taliban-leaders-are-living-luxury-qatar-316122.html. Additionally, Nuri reportedly joined the Taliban’s political office in Doha, where he allegedly attended the peace negotiations between the U.S. government and the Taliban in February 2020.Barnett R. Rubin, “Constitutional Issues in the Afghan Peace Negotiations: Process and Substance,” United States Institute of Peace, November 2020, https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2020-11/20201116-sr_488-constitutional_issues_in_the_afghan_peace_negotiations_process_and_substance-sr.pdf.

On August 6, 2021, the Taliban began an offensive against major Afghan cities with the seizure of Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province.Susannah George and Ezzatullah Mehrdad, “Taliban fighters overrun an Afghan provincial capital for the first time since withdrawal of foreign forces,” Washington Post, August 6, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/06/afghanistan-taliban-nimruz/. By August 13, the Taliban controlled 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and more than two-thirds of the country.Rahim Faiez, and Joseph Krauss, “Taliban sweep across Afghanistan’s south; take 4 more cities,” Associated Press, August 13, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-taliban-c6c8d4a41c554f36031a8131538d1402. On August 15, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan and thousands of Afghans poured into Kabul’s airport as Taliban fighters entered the city. By August 16, the Taliban laid siege to the presidential palace and took complete control of Kabul, after which the Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan had ended.“Taliban declares ‘war is over’ as president and diplomats flee Kabul,” Reuters, August 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10/. The Taliban has claimed that it would take on a more “moderate” approach in their ruling of the country, and that women are allowed to have roles in public life in observance of “Islamic law.”“Factbox: Taliban seek to present a moderate face as they take control in Afghanistan,” Reuters, August 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15/.

On September 7, 2021, the Taliban announced the official appointments within their caretaker government. Nuri was appointed minister of border and tribal affairs.“Taliban forms 33-member cabinet in Afghanistan: Full list,” Hindustan Times, September 8, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/taliban-forms-33-member-cabinet-in-afghanistan-full-list-101631066722518.html. The government is exclusively male, with many positions filled with veterans from their hardline movement in the early nineties.Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek, “Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts,” New York Times, September 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/world/asia/taliban-women-protest-kabul-afghanistan.html; Kathy Gannon, “Taliban form all-male Afghan government of old guard members,” Associated Press, September 8, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-pakistan-afghanistan-arrests-islamabad-d50b1b490d27d32eb20cc11b77c12c87.

United Nations

The United Nations Security Council sanctioned Nurullah Nuri on January 25, 2001.“NURULLAH NURI,” United Nations, January 25, 2001, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1988/materials/summaries/individual/nurullah-nuri.

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