A video shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as he peers out a vehicle guarded by the Taliban. (AP)
Kabul, Afghanistan — As a thin, tense-looking Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. forces, one of his Taliban captors leaned in and warned: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan. You won’t make it out alive next time.”
Then, the American soldier, wearing traditional loose-fitting Afghan trousers and a long tunic, was led away to a U.S. military helicopter, where he was patted down for explosives or other weapons before climbing aboard.
The weekend handover in the dusty desert was documented in a 17-minute video emailed to news organizations Wednesday by the Taliban, which touted the exchange of Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees as a victory, while debate rages in the U.S. over the deal and whether the 28-year-old from Hailey, Idaho, should be punished as a deserter.
U.S. lawmakers and others have complained that Congress should have been consulted, that the prisoner swap will embolden the Taliban to snatch more American soldiers, and that the released Afghans will filter back to the battlefield.
In Washington, Rob Williams, the U.S. national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate intelligence committee Tuesday that four of the men are expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the session was classified.
Under the terms of the exchange, the five Taliban detainees will have to stay for a year in Qatar. There, they will be free to communicate with their comrades in Afghanistan by courier, one of the congressional officials said.
The five include the former Taliban interior minister, who was described in a U.S. case file leaked by WikiLeaks as having had close ties to Osama bin Laden; the Taliban’s former deputy chief of intelligence; and a former member of a joint Taliban-al-Qaida cell.
The video of Bergdahl after five years in captivity shows a well-choreographed release, with the American sitting in a silver pickup truck while more than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns.
Back in the U.S., Sue Martin, a friend of the Bergdahl family and owner of Zaney’s Coffee Shop in Hailey, said Bergdahl’s appearance in the video shocked her.
“That’s not the Bowe who left here and lived here,” Martin said.