Taliban fighters have access to a large amount of biometric data of persons who helped the US and their NATO allies or worked with Indian intelligence, several media reports said. This cruicial data landed into their hands courtesy of the US, who left the embassy amid a chaotic evacuation.
These reports come only days after it was found that US officials in Afghanistan had "naively" handed over a "kill list" comprising names of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies to the Taliban so they could be allowed to enter the Taliban-controlled perimeter around the Hamid Karzai International Airport. What the documents actually did was help identify Afghan staff members and job applicants who were inadvertently left behind at the abandoned British Embassy in Kabul.
The biometric programme
The US had started collecting and collating data from some 3,00000 Afghans in 2009, mainly prisoners and Afghan soldiers. Then a biometrics centre was opened in November 2010. US officials aimed to compile information on as many as 25 million Afghans that would allow them to spot Taliban infiltrators. But it evolved into a way to identify Afghans hired or visited by the US forces. Eventually, everyone who worked with the Afghan government or the US military -- including interpreters, drivers, nurses, and secretaries -- was fingerprinted and scanned for the biometric database over the past 12 years.
The Afghan Automated Biometric Identification System (AABIS), administered by about 50 Afghans at the Interior Affairs ministry in Kabbul, registered fingerprints, iris scans, and other biographical data. The data were registered using hand-held scanners. Report has it that the US forces had 7,00 pieces of equipment.
After news broke about the security lapse, US officials have not confirmed how many of the 7,000 scanners were left behind or whether the biometric database can be remotely deleted.
In wrong hands
All of this has now become the property of the Taliban, which has wrested control of the entire country and took whatever the US officials didn't manage to take along.
In fact, Washington-based wire service platform Zenger News has learnt that the Taliban have mobilised a special unit, called Al Isha, to cannibalise this biometric data and hunt down Afghans who helped US and allied forces. Nawazuddin Haqqani, one of the brigade commanders of the Al Isha unit, told the news agency his unit is using the US-made hand-held scanners to tap into the database and positively identify any person who helped the NATO allies or worked with Indian intelligence. Afghans who try to deny or minimise their role will find themselves contradicted by the detailed record.
He said, “We’re in control of the interior ministry and the national biometric database they kept. We have everyone’s data with us now — including journalists and so-called human rights people. We haven’t killed a single foreign journalist, have we? We aren’t arresting the families of these people [who are on the blacklist] either,” he said. “But American, NDS [Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security] and RAW’s [India’s Research and Analysis Wing] puppets won’t be let off. They will always be watched by Al Isha. Those who were barking about having US dollars in their pockets till a few days back — they won’t be spared. They can’t be spared, can they?”
But Haqqani was quick to add that Al Isha was only "keeping an eye" on people who worked for America or the National Directorate of Security — the former Afghan government’s intelligence agency — and added that “The matter is being blown out of proportion by the foreign media and it's nothing more than a campaign to malign us,” he said. He contended that the database was used to spare the lives of foreign journalists.
The Al Isha
The existence of the Al Isha unit had never been confirmed by the Taliban, until now, when the Haqqani Network -- a terror group aligned with the Taliban -- finally acknowledged its existence. The network is “the most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group targeting US, coalition, and Afghan forces,” according to the US National Counterterrorism Center.
The Al Isha unit comprises nearly 1,100 people and it is spread out into many of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. It is one of the three groups under the Khalil Haqqani Brigade, which is a military unit of more than 2,000 fighters that is named after Khalil Haqqani, who has a $5 million bounty on his head and leads the Badri 313 unit, which recently mocked the iconic photo of US Marines raising an American flag on Iowa Jima.
Khalil Haqqani is the brother of the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, who mentored Osama Bin Laden and later served as a cabinet minister for the Taliban in the 1990s.
Interestingly, Taliban political spokesperson Suhail Shaheen has declined to comment on the existence of the Al Isha, and the use of the biometric database.
The Pakistan connect
When Zenger asked about reports that Pakistani intelligence officers were supervising the Al Isha unit’s use of biometric data, Haqqani did not deny it. “You are not that naive — you know the answer to that,” he said. “But what I can say is, it’s not necessary to train everyone in Pakistan. The Emirs [local Taliban chieftains] are quite capable of training the foot soldiers to handle the equipment.” This suggests Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, has access to America’s biometric database.
The news outlet also quoted an Afghan national army corps commander, who said, "The Afghan Taliban are incapable of handling the biometric equipment or the database. Every search party is overseen by a Pakistani officer or a member of the Haqqani Network.”