This week (October 24th or 23rd) a new video from Afghânistân was posted to the usual forums. The film is produced by Manba al Jihâd - the media group loyal to the Haqqânîs.
The Haqqânîs are a Tâlibân faction led by Jalâluddîn Haqqânî and his sons, foremost Sirâjuddîn. Jalâluddîn has been active in the 1980's war against the Soviet's and belonged to the Hizb Islâmî Khâlis prior to joining the Tâlibân in the mid-nineties and becoming a minister in their government. The Haqqânîs operate in Eastern Afghânistân (especially Greater Paktiâ), have safe havens in Pâkistân's Tribal Areas (especially North Wazîristân) and are responsible for many of the high profile attacks that shook Afghânistân in recent years.
|Jalâluddî Haqqânî in 1991 - the screen is taken from the latest Manba al Jihâd video (released October 2010)|
To my knowledge Manba al Jihâd operates since late 2007. In the years since they have released parts 1-8 of their series Da Ghâziânô Kârwân - Caravan of Fighters (ghâzî is difficult to translate, I personally learned that word as a term for someone who HAD fought jihâd and came out alive).
Well, as you may have guessed their newest release is part 9 of their series. As usual it shows news footage overlaid with a voiceover denouncing Hâmid Karzai and the US as criminals, attacks on NATO and ANA forces (IED's, ambushes, suicide bombings) and here and there a glimpse of their leaders.
But this time I was surprised to see an American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl who somehow got into the hands of the Tâlibân in late June 2009. He has been shown on video by the Tâlibân on three occasions. The first came right after his capture - in July 2009. The Tâlibân produced a video that was meant as proof of life and seems to have been made under time pressure. Instead of one of the official and semi-official media groups of the Tâlibân the video just showed the seal of the "Islamic Emirate of Afghânistân" (the official title of Afghânistan under the Tâlibân and still used by them).
|Bowe Bergdahl in a Tâlibân video (released July 2009)|
In December 2009 they followed up with a highly polished propaganda video by one of the big media groups: al Imârah. The video release was timed to hit the American headlines on Christmas, but it was overshadowed by that incident in Detroit.
|Bowe Bergdahl in a Tâlibân video (released December 2010)|
The third video was published in April 2010. Again it was not marked by usual media groups. This time it was obviously meant to create pressure on the US and thereby getting a prisoner exchange.
|Bowe Bergdahl shown in a Tâlibân video (released April 2010)|
The recent video release shows Bergdahl and to his right is the man who is believed to be his captor: Sangîn Zadrân, a very important military commander who belongs to the Haqqânîs. His official Tâlibân job is military commander of the Paktîkâ province.
|Bowe Bergdahl (l.) and Sangîn Zadrân (r.) in the recent Manba al Jihâd release (released October 2010)|
Additionally he is one of about a handful of actual (as in Afghâns who hold high official Tâlibân positions) commanders who gave an interview to al-Sahâb, al Qâ`idah's media front. I believe this shows that he is nearer to AQ than other commanders who are either camera-shy or rather talk to the professionals from al Jazîrah or western media.
|Sangîn Zadrân giving an interview to al-Sahâb (AQ's media) in 2009|
When I saw that interview with al-Sahâb I got the impression that they tried to mirror their interview with Dâdullah Akhûnd (visiting training camp, shooting RPG etc.). Dâdullah was the major Tâlibân military commander in Southern Afghânistân and on top of that he was extremely media savy. Most times it wasn't al-Sahâb but al-Jazeera who interviewed him. Additionaly he appeared in Tâlibân productions, sometimes he did beheadings in front of a camera. All of this he did unveiled and thereby became something like the face of the Tâlibân, the "Zarqâwî of Afghânistân" till his death in 2007.
I think to jihâdists in 2010 Zadrân is the best known active - as in still alive, not in jail and did not surrender - (unveiled) face of the Tâlibân. The only other active Tâlibân commander who appears unveiled is to my knowledge the commander of Nûristân: Dôst Muhammad.
Anyway, none one them has yet made that step with the Western media but the Bergdahl capture could lead to Sangîn Zadrân becoming famous and infamous in the West.
|Bowe Bergdahl and Sangîn Zadrân in the recent Manba al Jihâd video (released October 2010)|
Besides, for all those who claimed that Bergdahl deserted and/or is giving training on IED's to the Tâlibân (which is absurd on its own) he doesn't look particularly happy next to Zadrân, it is more the other way round.
UPDATE: 05 June 2014
Bergdahl has been exchanged for five high ranking Tâlibân members who had been jailed in Guantanamo on May 31st. Many newspapers are running articles on him using a variation of the photo seen above.
Interestingly I have not seen one reference to who the guy next to him is. While Sangîn Zadrân was of huge importance to the Tâlibân in Afghânistân and Pâkistân - for example he allegedly was the first trainer of the late Tehrîk e Tâlibân Pâkistân Amîr Hakîmullah Mehsûd - he never got famous in western media. To reiterate Zadrân was the most important field commander of the Haqqânî Tâlibân who were added to the US List of Foreign Terrorist Organization in late 2012.
A move that in my mind does not make sense as the Tâlibân are not designated as such and the so-called Haqqânî Network in my opinion is nothing but an unofficial sub-group within the Tâlibân. Jalaluddîn Haqqânî joined the Tâlibân in the mid-nineties and his so called network is right that - a network. a network built on personal connections, mostly of tribal character (Zadrân clan) and not an organisation in its own right. So, as the Haqqânîs are a designated FTO and were the ones holding Bergdahl the US did in some way deal with terrorists.
But what happened to Sangîn Zadrân? Last year in late summer he was killed in a drone strike in the Pâkistânî tribal area of North-Wazîristân. Photos of his funeral were later on released to jihâdist forums.
|Sangîn Zadrân shown at his funeral in summer 2013|