The Taliban released video of their handover of Bergdahl to U.S.
special operations forces in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan
border on Saturday, showing the U.S. soldier seemingly dazed and
anxious about the unfolding events.
Bergdahl's release after being held for nearly five years in
Afghanistan provoked an angry backlash in Congress among lawmakers
over the Obama administration's failure to notify them in advance.
Some of Bergdahl's former comrades have charged that he was captured
Heather Dawson, the city administrator of Hailey, Idaho, said that
town officials had called off their June 28 rally to celebrate
Bergdahl's release because they would be "unable to safely manage
the number of people expected."
The small mountain community had been under pressure to cancel after
claims by some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades that he had
deliberately abandoned his post.
That anger helped fuel congressional criticism of the Obama
administration's handling of the deal to free Bergdahl in exchange
for the transfer of five senior Taliban members from Guantanamo
prison in Cuba to Qatar, where they were to remain for a year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused critics of the agreement
of seizing upon what should be a moment of unity to "play political
games," but Senator John McCain, a top Republican who was a prisoner
of war in Vietnam, condemned the deal.
"This was clearly a terrible idea," he said. "These are the hardest
of the hard core."
TALIBAN RETURNING TO FIGHT?
U.S. lawmakers complained that the Obama administration did not give
Congress 30 days notice required by law before transferring
Guantanamo prisoners. They also expressed concern that the five were
senior leaders who may return to the fight.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Bergdahl's family on Wednesday
for the first time since his release, speaking with them for about
10 minutes. He assured them the Pentagon's focus was on their son's
health and return to his family, a senior official said.
The White House, surprised by the angry backlash, has taken steps to
try to address congressional ire over its failure to give lawmakers
proper notice, offering apologies and briefings. But they have also
expressed frustration over the reaction.
"It’s been disappointing to see the politicization of the United
States military’s mission to leave no man left behind," one Obama
administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hagel said critics should wait for all the facts to be known before
rushing to judgment on Bergdahl.
The administration arranged briefings for members of Congress on
Wednesday and next week. The White House did not inform members of
Congress, except for Reid, before the prisoner swap because they
were concerned about leaks.
"We have no idea what they were thinking," one Democratic lawmaker
Administration officials said they decided the notification issue
did not apply in Bergdahl's case because of the need to act quickly
because of his deteriorating health, the suddenness with which the
deal came together and the need for secrecy.
[to top of second column]
A U.S. intelligence analysis of videos of Bergdahl during his
captivity taken in 2011 and 2013, and other intelligence, indicated
that his health had deteriorated substantially over that period, one
U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
The official said that was one of the drivers of the decision to
push ahead with an exchange.
It also followed Obama's announcement last week that virtually all
U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, ending
more than a decade of engagement prompted by the al Qaeda-led Sept.
11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The Taliban video showed a Blackhawk helicopter landing in a barren
valley in eastern Afghanistan. As a handful of U.S. special
operations troops got out, two Taliban approached, one holding a
makeshift white flag of truce and the other leading Bergdahl.
The American team stepped briefly forward, exchanged a greeting and
then led Bergdahl back to the helicopter, quickly searching him
before putting him aboard, the video showed. The transaction lasted
less than a minute.
Bergdahl disappeared from his outpost in Afghanistan on June 30,
2009, leaving behind some of his gear.
One person familiar with the U.S. military’s investigation of his
disappearance said it concluded he walked off the base, but it was
not able to determine with certainty that he deserted.
General Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said on Wednesday
the Army would conduct a full review of his capture at the
The State Department said it would look into reports by the
Associated Press that the family of an American woman who
disappeared in Afghanistan in 2012 with her Canadian husband had
received two videos of the couple last year asking the U.S.
government to help win their release from the Taliban.
Caitlan Coleman was pregnant at the time of her disappearance along
with her husband Joshua Boyle, the AP said. The family decided to
make the videos public in light of the publicity surrounding
(Additional reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Hailey, Idaho, Patricia
Zengerle,; Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball in Washington, David
Brunnstrom in Brussels and; Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi in
Kabul; Editing by David Storey and Grant McCool)
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