Release of Taliban detainees alarms Afghan villagers

Taliban forces led by Mohammed Fazl swept through this village on the Shomali plain north of Kabul in 1999 in a scorched-earth offensive that prompted some 300,000 people to flee for their lives.

Fifteen years later, local residents here are responding with fear and dismay to the U.S. release of the notorious commander, along with four other Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war who was held by the Taliban. The group released a video on Wednesday showing the hurried handover a few days earlier of the American captive, looking gaunt and dazed. …

The release of Mr. Fazl and the four other Guantanamo detainees has become a hot-button political issue in both Afghanistan and the U.S. Critics complain that the Obama administration has freed some of the most dangerous militants.

One day after Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, the Afghan government protested the swap because it placed restrictions on the five, saying it sought “unconditional freedom of its citizens.” Under the agreement, brokered by Qatar, the five Taliban leaders are supposed to live in the Persian Gulf emirate under supervision for the next 12 months to prevent them from returning to violence.