Great news: Former Taliban leader released from Gitmo now recruiting for ISIS; Update: Yemen gov't resigns

On Tuesday, Barack Obama adamantly defended his policy of emptying the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, demanding that Congress get on board with it as well. As Jim Hoft noted at the time, the military leadership present at the State of the Union address didn’t appear too enthusiastic about it:

Perhaps the New York Times has an explanation for that stone-faced reaction. At the same time that Obama bragged about “turning the page” on war and the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, one of the men transferred from Gitmo worked to establish a new ISIS cell in Afghanistan after several years of post-Gitmo life as a Taliban commander:

After the Taliban’s years of war against the American-led military coalition and the new Afghan security forces, the movement’s cohesiveness has increasingly come into question. In particular, the long absence of the Taliban’s reclusive leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is said to be driving discontent within the Afghan Taliban ranks.

In that environment, the Islamic State’s rush of success on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq has created a new banner for disgruntled Taliban to adopt.

The militant commander at the center of the concerns in Helmand Province is a prominent former Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim. He was detained at the Guantánamo Bay military prison for several years, then returned to the Taliban ranks after his release, serving as a provincial-level military commander. He has since fallen out with his fellow insurgents, and he is said by some to be calling for recruits to support him in his new role as the local leader of the Islamic State. …

Another tribal elder, Hajji Sharin, said Mullah Khadim was pressing his old Taliban comrades to join. “He has asked them to renege from the Taliban, and he is working to bring Islamic State to Kajaki,” Mr. Sharin said.

In interviews, a man who called himself Hajji Mirwais said he had joined the Islamic State as a deputy under Mullah Khadim and claimed that their cell numbered 300 fighters. He said Mullah Khadim had been alienated by Mullah Omar’s long silence and had doubts about the Taliban’s exiled leadership.

Thomas Joscelyn profiled Khadim in the summer of 2010, when the Gitmo alum publicly threatened to assassinate anyone cooperating with the NATO coalition in Afghanistan. That was just three years after Khadim’s release into Afghan custody, which lasted less than two years before his escape. A fellow Gitmo alum, Abdullah Zakir, was released at the same time and had already become a Taliban commander. Both reportedly joined the Taliban’s Quetta Shura Council, among the highest-ranking fighters in the Taliban.

That release took place under George W. Bush, of course, but came from considerable pressure from Democrats in control of Congress at the time to start releasing supposedly benign detainees. It’s that same pressure that’s driving Obama’s determination to empty Gitmo now, whether the detainees present a threat or not. As the odyssey of Khadim demonstrates, sending terrorists back to Afghanistan doesn’t end the threat at all — it simply metastasizes it.

Speaking of which, it was just four months ago that the White House made this claim about Yemen:

MR. EARNEST:  Jim, I can say definitively that the President has ruled out sending American boots on the ground to be engaged in a combat role in Iraq and in Syria.  The strategy that the President has put forward to deal with the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria is substantially different from the strategy that was put in place in advance of the last conflict in Iraq.

What we’re considering here is more akin to the kinds of counterterrorism operations that have been successfully implemented in some other regions of the world.  And those other countries, using some of our military capability, using our support for local fighters on the ground who could take the fight in their own country to the extremist organizations that are operating there, and building up the local government structures of some of these other nations — that that has been a successful strategy for mitigating the threat, and even degrading the threat that is posed by –

Q    Where has that strategy been successful?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, they’re places like –

Q    Not Somalia or Yemen.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, those are actually two of the countries that I was just going to cite.  There is no doubt that in these two places the United States has deployed –

Q    Somalia –

MR. EARNEST:  Let me finish.  That when the United States has deployed a strategy, that strategy has been specifically to work with local governments to build up the capacity of those central governments, to work with local fighters to make sure that we’re increasing their capacity so that they can take the fight on the ground to these extremist organizations, and, where necessary, American military might can be deployed in support of those fighters on the ground to degrade the capacity of those individual organizations.

And just a couple of weeks ago, we saw an effort in Somalia, led by Somalian fighters, to take out the leader of al-Shabaab in that country.  That will have the effect of degrading and ultimately defeating al-Shabaab.  Is that mission completed?  Of course not.  They continue to serve as a threat.  But there is no doubt that this strategy has been successful.

Q    You’re holding up those countries as success stories, though.

MR. EARNEST:  What I’m holding them up as — as a place –

Q    You’ve had some successes here and there, but you wouldn’t hold them up as success stories.

MR. EARNEST:  They are a place where the American counterterrorism strategy that has been put in place by President Obama has succeeded in degrading the threat that those organizations pay to the United States.  And we intend to implement an analogous strategy against ISIL.

Last week, the Obama administration released five Yemenis from Gitmo, four of whom went to Oman, which borders on Yemen’s east. Today, with Shi’ite rebels holding the Yemeni president hostage and AQAP reveling in the chaos, the Obama administration has had to back down from a pledge to send detainees directly to Yemen:

In another challenge to President Barack Obama’s efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, a ban on transferring detainees to Yemen has been effectively pushed back into place because of security concerns in the volatile Middle Eastern nation, administration officials say.

While Obama approved sending detainees back to Yemen nearly two years ago, his administration has yet to use that authority. And officials say deep concerns about the threat posed by a Yemeni-based al-Qaida offshoot have removed that option for the foreseeable future, although that could change if conditions improve. The officials described the stance on condition of anonymity without authority to speak on the record.

Obama insisted in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he will not relent in his determination to close Guantanamo before he leaves office, and the administration is working on agreements with third countries willing to take Yemenis who are clear to leave the U.S. prison in Cuba. Nearly two-thirds of the remaining 122 detainees are from Yemen, including 47 of the 54 who have been approved for transfer. …

Meanwhile, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which Washington considers to be the group’s most dangerous branch, has been thriving in Yemen amid the chaos. The group has claimed responsibility for the recent attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and failed assaults on the U.S. homeland. While U.S. officials have questioned how much control the group had of the Paris operation, the United States has long been waging drone strikes in Yemen to target the terrorist threat.

Republican senators introduced legislation last week, citing the Paris and other terrorist attacks, as a reason to legally reinstate a ban on Yemeni transfers among other restrictions on Guantanamo transfers during Obama’s remaining two years in office.

It’s baffling, to say the least, as to why the US would choose to release Yemeni terrorists at the precise moment when their likeliest employer post-release is taking credit for the massacre of 16 people in the Charlie Hebdo massacre and related attacks. It’s also curious as to why this impulse is so important that it must be discussed in every State of the Union speech when it’s clear that a bipartisan coalition in Congress is clearly not buying the argument that (a) Gitmo is too expensive, and (b) that it and not radical Islam is the proximate cause and chief recruiting issue for radical Islamist terror.

Keep Gitmo open. Given the alternatives we’re seeing so far from releases like Khadim’s and others, it’s relatively cheap.

Update: Yet another success story for smart power:

Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, his prime minister and Cabinet have all resigned, multiple news organizations are reporting, compounding a political crisis that began earlier this week when Shiite Houthi rebels took control of much of the capital, Sanaa, and surrounded the president’s residence.

Yemeni Information Minister Nadia Sakkaf also tweeted about the resignations.

Today’s developments come despite reports Wednesday of a deal under which the Houthis apparently agreed to withdraw from parts of Sanaa, including from Hadi’s house, and to free his chief of staff, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, who was abducted over the weekend. In exchange, Hadi was reported to have agreed to concessions. In the past, the Houthis have demanded that the constitution be amended, and their representation in parliament and state institutions expanded.

But as we noted earlier today, heavily armed rebels were stationed today outside Hadi’s home, west of Sanaa. There also appeared to be no sign that the rebels had freed Mubarak.

The only upside to this is that AQAP and the Houthis will likely end up fighting each other, but otherwise, it’s yet another failed state across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia. Look for an uptick in piracy if the meltdown continues.