A top intelligence official told lawmakers in a classified Senate briefing last week that he expected four out of the five Taliban leaders released by the Obama administration to eventually return to the battlefield.
According to a pair of U.S. officials, the briefing from Robert Cardillo, a deputy director of national intelligence, represented the latest community-wide U.S. intelligence assessment on these Taliban Five, completed in 2013.
It also means that President Obama was faced with a particularly excruciating choice as he weighed whether or not to swap these five for American hostage Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The government of Qatar, which agreed to look after the five Taliban leaders as part of the deal for Bergdahl, warned that factions within the Taliban were growing impatient, and campaigning to kill Bergdahl instead of trading him.
“Time is not on your side,” they told U.S. negotiators, according to two senior defense officials. They described a growing split within Taliban and Haqqani Network (which held Bergdahl) over how to best use the soldier—a split confirmed by multiple Taliban and Afghan sources in the region.
Making matters more desperate for Bergdahl was the fact that in September a CIA drone killed Mullah Sangeen Zadran, the Haqqani Network commander who first captured Bergdahl, a move that could have scuttled any chance at all for a prisoner swap.
It all added up to a painful dilemma for the White House: free Taliban leaders who might return to the fight—or risk losing America’s last service member held abroad. Obama ultimately chose to make the deal, despite his intelligence services’ estimate that four of the five Taliban detainees would ultimately resume their struggle against American allies.
The Associated Press also reported last week that Rob Williams, the national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he assessed four out of the five would return to combat.
The Daily Beast has learned that these Taliban figures are Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammed Nabi Omari.
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