Influential Taliban commanders admitted to the Taliban government

The Taliban have hired two key military commanders, a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay and the other who worked closely with the Iranian Qods force, as deputies in the Ministry of Interior and Defense.

The Taliban appointed former Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir as deputy defense minister, while Ibrahim Sadr (or Sadar) was appointed deputy interior minister for security. The two powerful military commanders who previously served as heads of the Taliban’s military commission between 2010 and 2020 were not used in the first cabinet round, announced on September 7.

Sadr will serve under Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interior minister who is arguably the most powerful and influential Taliban leader in the country. Sirajuddin is also one of two deputy emirs and heads the powerful Al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network that influenced the course of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Zakir will serve under Mullah Yacoub, the defense minister who is the son of the Taliban founder and first emir, Mullah Omar. Yacoub is the Taliban’s other deputy emir.

Their appointments to key defense and interior ministries put an end to the question of whether the two commanders would be given prominent positions within the new Taliban government.

In addition, Zakir and Sadr join a long list of historic Taliban leaders, many of whom served in the Taliban’s government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The new Taliban government looks like it did 20 years ago.

Mullah Zakir

Zakir (also known as Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul) is considered one of the sharpest and most dedicated commanders of the Afghan Taliban. He is also one of several senior Taliban leaders closely associated with al-Qaeda. [See LWJ reports, The Taliban’s surge commander was Gitmo detainee and Former Gitmo detainee leads top Taliban council, for more information on Zakir.]

After the US invasion of Afghanistan, Zakir was arrested in December 2001 by troops of the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and handed over to the US forces, which sent him to Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. During his time in Guantanamo, Zakir claimed that he was an innocent man with no ties to the Taliban. In 2007 Zakir was transferred from Guantanamo to Afghan custody and briefly detained in Bagram Prison. After his release by the Afghan government in May 2008, Zakir rejoined the Taliban.

The Taliban immediately welcomed Zakir back into their ranks, and he was appointed head of the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a military command that oversees operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces. As the leader of this regional shura, Zakir interacted with al-Qaeda as the terrorist group operated alongside the Taliban in both provinces.

In 2010, as the US military and NATO stepped up their troops to defeat the Taliban, Zakir was tapped by the Taliban to counter western forces in the south, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar. That year he was also appointed commander of the Taliban armed forces.

According to a statement released by the Taliban, Zakir resigned as head of the Taliban’s military commission in April 2014 “because of his ongoing struggle with his illness”. But it was rumored at the time that Zakir and Taliban emir Mullah Mansour were at odds over the Taliban’s strategy and negotiations with the Afghan government. Although Zakir has resigned as military commander of the Taliban, he is still “a member of the leadership council of the Islamic Emirates and is engaged in other important jihadist works that are comparatively simpler,” the Taliban said at the time. [See LWJ reports, Head of Taliban’s military commission resigns due to ‘ill health’ and Taliban: Mullah Zakir denies reports he called for negotiations with the West.]

After Mullah Mansour was named Mullah Omar’s successor in 2015, the Taliban promptly issued a statement claiming that Zakir would remain a member of the Quetta Shura and would not oppose her new emir, the press rumored. Zakir officially swore allegiance to Mansour in March 2015 and reiterated his support in July 2016. In April 2016, the Taliban issued a statement from Zakir denying that he had attempted to negotiate with the US and Afghan governments.

In 2020, Zakir was appointed deputy to Mullah Yacoub, who was appointed head of the Taliban’s military commission.

Sadr Ibrahim

Ibrahim rose through his close ties to Omar and Mansour in the ranks of the Taliban. However, he is considered an impressive military commander himself. Ibrahim commanded troops in Kandahar, the northeastern Afghan provinces of Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar, and in Kabul. In the Taliban regime, Ibrahim was Deputy Minister of Defense from 1996 to 2001.

After the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Ibrahim served in the Taliban’s regional military shura in Peshawar. Ibrahim was appointed head of the Taliban’s military commission in 2014.

In 2018, the seven member states of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (including the USA) sanctioned Ibrahim “because he acted for or on behalf of the Taliban”. Ibrahim worked with the Iranians to support the Taliban.

“Iranian officials agreed to provide Ibrahim with financial support and individual training in order to prevent possible tracing back to Iran,” stated the Ministry of Finance in naming Ibrahim. “Iranian coaches would help build the Taliban’s tactical and combat skills.”

In 2020 Ibrahim was replaced by Mullah Yacoub, who was appointed head of the Taliban’s military commission. Ibrahim was demoted to Yacoub’s deputy. The Taliban routinely placed their military leaders in various positions during their two-decade insurrection from 2001 to 2021.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and editor of the FDD’s Long War Journal.

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Keywords: Afghanistan, Al-Qaida, Ibrahim Sadr, Iran, Islamic Emirate Afghanistan, Mullah Zakir, Qods Force, Taliban

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