Army Sergeant Bergdahl, held for nearly five years in Afghanistan,
was freed in a deal with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari
government. Five Taliban militants, described by Senator John McCain
as the "hardest of the hard core," were released from the U.S.
prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and flown to Qatar.
While Bergdahl's released on Saturday was celebrated by his family
and his hometown, and could be seen as a coup for President Barack
Obama as he winds down America's longest war, McCain and other
Republicans questioned whether the administration had acted properly
in releasing the militants.
"These are the highest high-risk people. Others that we have
released have gone back into the fight," said McCain, a former
prisoner of war and Vietnam War veteran.
"That's been documented. So it's disturbing to me that the Taliban
are the ones that named the people to be released." he said on CBS’s
“Face the Nation.”
As the Obama administration sought to counter the criticism,
Bergdahl was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany
for medical treatment. After receiving care he would be transferred
to another facility in San Antonio, Texas, U.S. defense officials
said, without giving a date for his return to the United States.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he hoped the exchange might
lead to breakthroughs in reconciliation with the militants and
rejected accusations from Republicans that it resulted from
negotiations with terrorists, saying the swap had been worked out by
the government of Qatar.(Full Story)
"We didn't negotiate with terrorists," Hagel said in an interview on
NBC's "Meet the Press". "As I said and explained before, Sergeant
Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting
your prisoners back."
Bergdahl, 28, was handed over on Saturday to U.S. forces who had
flown in by helicopter. The Taliban said they had released Bergdahl
near the border with Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan.
His parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, told a news conference on Sunday
they had not yet spoken to their son and were aware of the long task
ahead as he adapts to being free, saying he needed time to
decompress. (Full Story)
"It is like a diver going deep on a dive and he has to stage back up
through recompression to get the nitrogen bubbles out of the system.
If he comes up too fast, it could kill him," his father said.
Bergdahl, from Idaho, was the only known missing U.S. soldier in the
Afghan war that began soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the
United States to force the Taliban - accused of sheltering al Qaeda
militants - from power.
He was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on
June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country. Many
U.S. government officials believe Bergdahl was seized after walking
away from his unit in violation of U.S. military regulations.
But U.S. officials have indicated there is little desire to pursue
any disciplinary action against him given what he has been through.
His release followed years of on-off negotiations and suddenly
became possible after harder-line factions of the Afghan Taliban
shifted course and agreed to back it, U.S. officials said. (Full
A senior Gulf source confirmed that the five released Taliban
militants had arrived on Sunday in Doha, capital of Qatar, the Gulf
emirate that acted as intermediary in the negotiations.
They would not be permitted to leave Qatar for a year, the source
said, adding that their families had been flown from Afghanistan.
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U.S. officials said the restrictions placed on them included
monitoring of their activities. Those assurances were greeted with
scepticism by U.S. Republicans and some Afghan officials, who voiced
concerns that the men would rejoin the insurgency. (Full Story)
"They will be very dangerous people, because they have connections
with regional and international terror organizations around the
world," a senior Afghan intelligence official said.
some Republicans suggested the administration had bypassed a legal
requirement to notify Congress 30 days in advance about prisoner
releases from Guantanamo and said the deal amounted to a negotiation
Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a "dangerous price"
But Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, said the
administration was concerned about Bergdahl's health and upheld a
"sacred obligation" to return soldiers from the battlefield.
"We had reason to be concerned that this was an urgent and an acute
situation, that his life could have been at risk," Rice said on
ABC's "This Week." "We did not have 30 days to wait. And had we
waited and lost him, I don't think anybody would have forgiven the
United States government."
Some members of the U.S. Congress worried even before the prisoner
exchange took place over the release of the five, particularly of
Mohammed Fazl, a "high-risk" detainee who is alleged to be
responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghanistan's minority
Shi'ite Muslims between 1998 and 2001.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity,
identified the five men as Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed
Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq.
Pentagon documents released by the WikiLeaks organization said all
five were sent to Guantanamo in 2002. They were classified as
"high-risk" and "likely to pose a threat" to the United States, its
interests and allies.
According to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, Noori, for example, was
a senior Taliban military commander wanted by the U.N. for possible
war crimes and Wasiq was a Taliban deputy minister of intelligence
who was a central figure in the group's alliance with other Islamic
The prisoner exchange deal came days after Obama outlined a plan on
Tuesday to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan
by the end of the year and the remainder by 2016, ending more than a
decade of U.S. military engagement.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Jessica Donati in
Kabul, David Brunnstrom in Bagram, Amena Bakr in Doha and Missy
Ryan, David Morgan, Phil Stewart and Bill Trott in Washington;
Writing by Alex Richardson and Jim Loney; Editing by Jeremy
Laurence, Lynne O'Donnell and Frances Kerry)
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