THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Freed Afghan detainee with Taliban, officials say

News may stall plan to close jail at Guantanamo

By Kathy Gannon
Associated Press / March 4, 2010

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LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan - A man who was freed from Guantanamo after he claimed he only wanted to go home and help his family is now a senior commander running Taliban resistance to the US-led offensive in southern Afghanistan, two senior Afghan intelligence officials say.

Abdul Qayyum is also seen as a leading candidate to be the next number two in the Afghan Taliban hierarchy, said the officials, interviewed last week by the AP.

The story of Abdul Qayyum could add to the complications that President Obama is facing in fulfilling his pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo.

US intelligence says 20 percent of suspects released from the Guantanamo Bay prison have returned to the fight and that the number has been steadily increasing.

Qayyum’s key aide in plotting attacks on Afghan and international forces is another former Guantanamo prisoner, said the Afghan intelligence officials as well as a former Helmand governor, Sher Mohammed Akundzada. Abdul Rauf, who told his US interrogators that he had only loose connections to the Taliban, spent time in an Afghan jail before being freed last year.

He rejoined the Taliban, they said. Akundzada said he warned the authorities against releasing both him and Qayyum.

Like Qayyum, Rauf is from Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. During the Taliban’s rule, which ended in 2001, Rauf was a corps commander in the western province of Herat and in the Afghan capital, Kabul, said Akhundzada.

The intelligence officials were interviewed in Helmand, where the Taliban control several districts, and spoke on condition of anonymity lest they attract the militia’s attention.

They said Qayyum was given charge of the military campaign in the south about 14 months ago, soon after his release from the Afghan jail to which he had been transferred from Guantanamo. That includes managing the battle for the town of Marja, where NATO troops are flushing out remaining militants.

Qayyum, whose Taliban nom de guerre is Qayyum Zakir, is thought to be running operations from the Pakistani border city of Quetta. A Pakistani newspaper report that he was recently arrested was denied by Abdul Razik, a former governor of Kajaki, Qayyum’s home district, which is under extensive Taliban control.

One of the intelligence officials also questioned the report. He said a house Qayyum was in was raided about two weeks ago and three assistants were arrested but he escaped. A week ago he was seen in Pishin, a Pakistani border town about 30 miles from Quetta, the official said.