Only American captive of Taliban released in prisoner swap

The title pretty much says it all, but it certainly came out of the blue. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been held captive for roughly five years, but a deal was reached to trade five jihadis for him and bring him home.

The lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, captured by insurgents nearly five years ago, has been released to American forces in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Obama administration officials said Saturday.

The soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was handed over to American Special Operations forces inside Afghanistan about 10:30 a.m. Saturday by a group of 18 Taliban, officials said.

American officials said that Sergeant Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.

The five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo were being transferred into the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state, where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.

This is going to be a story with many mixed emotions for those reading it. Bergdahl is one of ours, never to be forgotten, and everyone wanted him back home safely. At the same time, we’ve had a standing maxim for a long time stating that we don’t negotiate with terrorists. This left us in a bit of a rock and a hard place situation. Frankly, I’d hoped that long before this we would have not only discovered his location, but launched an ambitious special forces effort to bust him out and bring him back alive if at all possible. Of course, not being privy to the intelligence surrounding the case, I have no way of knowing if that was even possible or if I’ve just watched too many war movies.

Just as a preview of possible things to come, here’s a profile of who we traded in exchange for the prisoner.

While not as well known as Guantanamo inmates like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Taliban 5 were some of the worst outlaws in the U.S. war on terror. And their release will end up replenishing the diminished leadership ranks of the Afghan Taliban at a moment when the United States is winding down the war there.

“They are undoubtedly among the most dangerous Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior editor at the Long War Journal who keeps a close watch on developments concerning the detainees left at the Guantanamo Bay prison.

Fazl, for example, was the Taliban’s former deputy defense minister and is wanted by the United Nations for his role in massacres targeting Afghan’s Shi’ite Muslim population.

According to the 2008 Pentagon’s dossier on Fazl disclosed by Wikileaks (PDF), Noori also was a senior Taliban military figure and, according to his Pentagon dossier, was asked personally in 1995 by Osama bin Laden (PDF) to participate in an offensive against northern alliance warlord Rashid Dostum.

It just goes downhill from there. Read the article for the full cast of characters.

Still, we should mark this as a happy day, since the last man standing and unaccounted for will be coming back to the fold. But I can’t imagine how hard it must be for our troops to have to let those five Taliban fighters walk out the door. As I said, a day of joy and relief, but also of mixed emotions.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on December 09, 2022