The last American prisoner of the U.S.-Afghan war was finally handed over to U.S. Special Operations forces on Saturday in a dramatic swap for five Taliban detainees who were freed from Guantanamo Bay prison and excaped to Qatar.
Neglecting its long-held policy of refusing to deal with terrorists, the White House has agreed to release five Taliban prisoners kept at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan back June 30, 2009.
When being released from his captors, the soldier asked whether the group taking him away was a U.S. special-forces team, at which point one of the soldiers confirmed his guess and said, “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time,” claimed some sources familar with the matter. And at that moment Bergdahl reportedly burst into tears.
The released soldier was considered to be the only U.S. prisoner of war in the the Afghan conflict. Now he remains at an undisclosed facility in Afghanistan receiving medical treatment.
Saturday evening U.S. President Barack Obama appeared in the White House Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents, Robert and Jani. He described the sergeant’s returning home as a triumph of years of diplomacy.
“He wasn’t forgotten by his country,” Obama announced. “The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
Jani Bergdahl said: “I just want to say thank you everyone who has supported Bowe. He’s had a wonderful team everywhere. We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers.”
The soldier’s father began his speech in the Rose Garden with a Muslim prayer and said that his son was having difficulty speaking English.
Senior Republicans in Congress expressed theor disapproval towards the deal that brought about the sergeant’s recovery, saying that by giving up Taliban prisoners the U.S. was encouraging terrorists to capture other U.S. citizens.
“Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans,” said a statement issued House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.). “That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.”
Shortly after Bergdahl’s release, Obama issued a statement claiming, “I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal.”
Although the President didn’t comment on the issue of negotiating with terrorist organisations he did admitted that the move could mean in general terms for U.S. policy.
“While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground,” Obama said in his statement.
“The United States also remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process as the surest way to achieve a stable, secure, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan.”