President Joe Biden was vague and uncertain Thursday when a White House reporter asked him whether the United States had given the Taliban a list of Americans and Afghans to protect – an action that would amount to handing a list to kill to a mortal enemy.
“I can’t tell you for sure that there actually was a list of names,” Biden said. “I don’t know – there may have been, but I don’t know of any circumstances. “
Meanwhile, the Taliban are certain they have a casualty list.
In a rare interview, a Taliban brigade commander officially confirmed that the Taliban were using a US-built biometric database and some 7,000 hand-held scanners left in Kabul during Biden’s frantic withdrawal.
The Taliban, the brigade commander said, mobilized a special unit called Al Isha to hunt down the Americans and their allies. The existence of this unit has not been previously reported in Western media.
Al Isha Unit Brigade Commander Nawazuddin Haqqani boasted in an interview with Zenger News that his unit uses US-made handheld scanners to tap into a massive, US-built biometric database. United and positively identify anyone who has helped NATO. allies or worked with the Indian Secret Service. Those who try to deny or downplay their role will find themselves contradicted by the detailed computer records.
The existence of the Al Isha unit has not been previously confirmed by the Taliban; So far, the Haqqani Network, a Taliban-aligned terrorist group, has not admitted its role in targeting Afghans or its use of America’s vast biometric database.
The Haqqani Network is “the deadliest and most sophisticated insurgent group targeting US, coalition and Afghan forces,” according to the US National Counterterrorism Center.
The power and scope of the US biometric database is mind-boggling. Virtually everyone who has worked with the Afghan government or the US military, including interpreters, drivers, nurses, and secretaries, have had their fingerprints and scanned for the biometric database in the past 12 years.
US officials have not confirmed how many of the 7,000 hand-held scanners were left behind or whether the biometric database could be removed remotely.
The U.S. state and defense departments acknowledged receipt of Zenger’s questions for this story on Tuesday. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth said he would pass them on to “the right people,” but did not provide answers until press time. State Department press secretary Nicole Thompson said the issues were “being worked on” within the agency, but also did not provide a response. White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Zenger again asked the three agencies for comment on Friday morning; none of them responded to the questions on file.
“Now that Kabul is taken, operational work has taken a back seat and we have focused on counterintelligence,” Nawazuddin Haqqani told Zenger in a telephone conversation on August 21. madrasas [Islamic religious schools], the Al Isha group is now the main agency in charge of this [biometric] data project.
“We control the Home Office and the national biometric database they kept. We now have everyone’s data with us, including journalists and so-called human rights defenders. We haven’t killed a single foreign journalist, have we? We don’t stop the families of these people [who are on the blacklist] Either, ”he said. “But American, NDS [Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security] and RAW [India’s Research and Analysis Wing] the puppets will not be released. They will always be watched by Al Isha. Those who barked until a few days ago about having US dollars in their pockets, they will not be spared. They can not be spared, right?
The database, which includes fingerprints, iris scans and other biographical data, was housed in a whitewashed interior ministry building in Kabul. “The centerpiece of the program is the Afghan Automated Biometric Identification System (AABIS), administered by some 50 Afghans at the Interior Ministry in Kabul,” according to a 2011 FBI press release. published an official “Commander’s Guide to Biometrics In Afghanistan” manual in 2011.
The United States began with data from some 300,000 Afghans in 2009, mostly Afghan prisoners and soldiers according to NATO, and the biometric center opened in November 2010. US officials aimed to compile information out of as many as 25 million Afghans, or about 80 percent of the population. , Annie Jacobsen, author of “First Platoon: A Story of Modern War in The Age of Identity Dominance” (Penguin, 2020), told National Public Radio last year. The exact number of Afghans covered by the database remains confidential.
At first, the United States hoped to use the biometric database to spot infiltrated Taliban or catch roadside bomb makers, which had claimed the lives of hundreds of American and Allied sources since 2001. Later, it has evolved into a means of identifying virtually all Afghans. that US forces hired or visited. In 2014, the US military called its strategy “identity domination”.
Now, this identity domination belongs to the Taliban. “We are not collecting new data – we already have it,” Nawazuddin Haqqani said. “The group [Al Isha] just keep an eye out that if anyone has worked for America or the National Directorate of Security [the former Afghan government’s intelligence agency]. “The database is also used to find anyone who has worked with British, European or Indian intelligence services,” he said.
“The question [data collection and making of the list] is being exaggerated by the foreign media and it is nothing more than a campaign to slander us, ”he said. He argued that the database was used to spare the lives of foreign journalists.
Al Isha’s unit has more than doubled in size from 500 to nearly 1,100 over the past month, he told Zenger, and has spread to several of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Asked about reports that Pakistani intelligence agents were overseeing the Al Isha unit’s use of biometric data to interrogate former US allies, Nawazuddin Haqqani did not deny the connection with Pakistan. “You are not that naive – you know the answer to that,” he said. “But what I can say is that you don’t have to train everyone in Pakistan. the emirs [local Taliban chieftains] are quite capable of training infantrymen in handling equipment.
This suggests that the Pakistani spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, has access to the US biometric database. If Al Isha can identify Indian intelligence sources in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis will pursue them as well.
Asked about the details of the data collection, he declined to answer and said: “This is a question that [Taliban political spokesperson Suhail] Shaheen should answer.
Shaheen declined to comment on Al Isha’s existence, the presence of Pakistani intelligence officers, and the use of US-made biometric technology in Afghanistan.
Nawazuddin Haqqani revealed the history and command structure of the Al Isha unit. “The Al Isha is nothing new. It is one of the three groups of the Khalil Haqqani brigade, ”he said.
The brigade is a military unit of over 2,000 fighters named after Khalil Haqqani, who has a $ 5 million bounty on his head and leads Badri 313, which recently mocked the iconic photo US Marines hoisting an American flag over Iwo Jima. .
Khalil Haqqani is the brother of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, who mentored Osama Bin Laden and later served as Taliban minister in the 1990s.
Nawazuddin Haqqani is a member of the Haqqani clan whom Khalil personally charged with counterintelligence operations in Kabul. In many ways, Nawazuddin is treated like Khalil’s son. But their exact family relationship is debated among Western intelligence analysts and is a sensitive topic on which the Taliban and Haqqani sources decline to comment.
In another part of Kabul, a 26-year-old former Afghan National Army corps commander was reached on his mobile phone on August 16, hours after the Taliban captured the city.
“Well, I came home safe and sound and I’m with my parents, my wife and my child,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll be here for long. They’re going door-to-door and scanning everyone with biometric scanners, and they’ll be knocking on my door anytime now. “
When asked if he was referring to the Taliban, his words were precise: “Actually, the Al Isha. “
The corps commander, who requested that his name not be released because Al Isha is actively hunting him, says he is in the biometric database due to his volunteer work as a media coordinator with an Afghan non-profit organization.
“The Afghan Taliban are unable to manage the biometric equipment or the database,” he said. “Each research team is supervised by a Pakistani officer or a member of the Haqqani network. “
The phone of the former corps commander has since died.
Edited by David Martosko