Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa is an Afghan national born in the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan in 1967. Khairkhwa is one of the five Taliban affiliates released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
According to a 2008 Department of Defense document, Khairkhwa is listed as being a HIGH risk to pose a threat to the United States, a HIGH priority for intelligence, and a LOW threat from a “detention perspective.”
Here is what you need to know about Khair Khairkhwa:
1. He Was a Taliban Commander & Associate of Osama bin Laden
According to the classified Department of Defense document, which was published by Wikileaks in 2011, Khairkhwa is identified as filling a number of prominent roles both in and out of the Taliban, including a senior Taliban official, the minister of interior, the governor of Herat, and a military commander.
The documents report that after September 11, Khairkhwa “represented the Taliban during meetings with Iranian officials seeking to support hostilities against U.S. and Coalition forces.” He is also described as being a major narcotics trafficker and an opium “drug lord.”
2. He Grew Up as a Refugee in Pakistan
Khairkhwa grew up as an Afghan refugee in Pakistan after Cold War fighting rocked his home country. Although he had no secular education, he is noted as going to an Islamic school, which helped him become the leader of his tribe, the Popalzai.
Once the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Khairkhwa worked his way through the ranks, serving as the Taliban spokesman from 1995 to 1996, the Taliban Minister of Interior from 1996 to 1999, and the governor of the Herat Province until the U.S. invasion in 2001.
3. He Was Arrested While Courting Hamid Karzai for a Government Job
The Department of Defense identifies Khairkhwa as a friend of Afghan president Hamid Karzai. It gives no indication of how close the two were but does note that other Taliban officials became skeptical of Khairkhwa because of his relationship with the president. When the Taliban lost control of Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion, Khairkhwa reportedly approached Karzai for a job in the government.
During this time, in January 2002, Khairkhwa traveled to Pakistan, where he called Wali Karzai, Hamid’s half-brother, and attempted to negotiate his surrender to the new government. The next day, he was visiting with the former governor of Kabul when a raid on the house led to the arrest of both of them.
4. In 7 Years at Guantanamo He had 17 Disciplinary Infractions
Khairkhwa was transferred to Guantanamo on May 1, 2002. Part of the Defense Department reports on detainees is detailed records of their behavior while in captivity. Khairkhwa was determined to be a low threat, meaning “his overall behavior has been compliant and non-hostile to the guard force and staff.”
That said, he had a total of 17 “Reports of Disciplinary Infractions” between May 2002 and March 2008. Those infractions consisted of assault, throwing water and bodily fluids at guards, taking part in “mass disturbances,” failure to follow rules, inappropriate use of bodily fluids, threatening guards, unauthorized communications, damage to government property, provoking words or gestures, and possession of food contraband.
In 2007 he had only four infractions, and at the time the memo was created in March 2008, he had only one that year.
5. He’s One of the 5 Taliban Affiliates Traded for Bergdahl
U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009 and held until May 31, 2014, when he was turned over to the United States. After he was safe, President Obama revealed that his release was part of a negotiation with the Taliban that necessitated the United States release five requested Taliban affiliates from Guantanamo Bay. They are Mohammad Fazl, Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Khairullah Khairkhwa. They were brought to Qatar and released on June 1.