Bowe Bergdahl release: US parties clash on Afghan deal

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Media captionVideo has emerged purporting to show the Taliban prisoners arriving in Qatar

The main US political parties have clashed over the deal to swap five Guantanamo Bay detainees for a Taliban-held soldier, with Republicans warning it could put American lives at risk.

Senator John McCain said the detainees, who were transferred to Qatar, were some of the "highest high-risk people".

Afghanistan also condemned the deal, saying handing prisoners to a third country violated international law.

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed to US forces in Afghanistan on Saturday.

In an emotional address on Sunday, his father, Robert Bergdahl, said he was proud how far his son was willing to go to help the Afghan people, but warned that his recovery would take a long time.

He said he and his wife had not yet spoken to the soldier, who is in a good condition and undergoing medical care at a US military hospital in Germany.

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Image caption The home town of Hailey, Idaho, is celebrating Bowe Bergdahl's release


Several Republicans have spoken out against the deal, warning that it set a worrying precedent and amounted to negotiating with terrorists.

Mr McCain said the Taliban released were "possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands" and may have "the ability to re-enter the fight", in comments to CBS TV.

Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, told CNN that Washington had "now set a price" for al-Qaeda ransom threats.

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Media captionChuck Hagel: "No shots were fired - it went as well as it could have"

Questions were raised over the legality of the deal, after the Obama administration did not give Congress sufficient notice about the transfer of the Taliban detainees.

But US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is currently in Afghanistan, dismissed the criticism saying the military had to act quickly "to essentially save his life".

"We didn't negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back," he told NBC TV.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Sgt Bergdahl's failing health had created an "acute urgency", making it "necessary and appropriate" not to adhere to the 30-day notification requirement.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A video grab image from 2010 showed Sgt Bergdahl in captivity

The Afghan government, which was not informed until after the exchange had taken place, condemned it as a "breach of international law" and urged the US and Qatar to "let the men go free".

The five detainees are thought to be the most senior Afghans held at the US detention facility in Cuba, having been captured during America's military campaign in 2001.

In a rare public statement on Sunday, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar described the exchange as a "big victory".

But President Barack Obama said that he had received security guarantees from Qatar - which mediated the deal - "that it will put in place measures to protect our national security".

They have been banned from leaving Qatar for at least a year.

Analysis: Bilal Sarwary, BBC News, Kabul

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Image caption The five detainees have already arrived in Qatar

The Afghan response to this prisoner exchange is both complicated and contradictory.

Nobody knows the exact conditions under which these prisoners were released but the Afghan government has reacted with anger. Part of their fury is likely to be that they were not even informed about the exchange, let alone being excluded from the talks process.

In a letter of complaint to the US they say that as the men are Afghan citizens, they should not have been handed over to a third country. The foreign ministry says Afghanistan is obliged to look after its own citizens under international law.

The High Peace Council - which is tasked with negotiating a peace settlement with the militants - is quietly hopeful that the release of these men could move things forward.

But security and intelligence sources have a different perspective. They point out that these men are highly trained, well connected and dangerous militant operatives.

Sgt Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was the only US soldier being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was serving with an infantry regiment in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, when he went missing on 30 June 2009.

"Bowe's been gone for so long that it's going to be difficult to come back," his father told journalists on Sunday.

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Media captionJani and Bob Bergdahl spoke of their love and pride for their son, Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, and said he would need time to ''decompress''

"It's like a diver going deep on a dive and [having] to stage back up through decompression to get the nitrogen bubbles out of his system. If he comes up too fast, it could kill him."

The circumstances of Sgt Bergdahl's capture remain unclear, with speculation he may have walked away from his base out of disillusionment with the US campaign.

US officials say any decision over possible desertion charges will be made by the army.

Who are the Guantanamo detainees?

  • Mohammad Fazl served as the Taliban's deputy defence minister during America's military campaign in 2001. Accused of possible war crimes, including the murder of thousands of Shia Muslims.
  • Khirullah Khairkhwa was a senior Taliban official serving as interior minister and governor of Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city. Alleged to have had direct links to Osama Bin Laden.
  • Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban's deputy minister of intelligence. Said to have been central in forming alliances with other Islamist groups to fight against US and coalition forces.
  • Mullah Norullah Noori was a senior Taliban military commander and a governor. Also accused of being involved in the mass killings of Shia Muslims.
  • Mohammad Nabi Omari held multiple Taliban leadership roles, including chief of security. Alleged to have been involved in attacks against US and coalition forces.

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