This morning, TIME Magazine featured a chilling interview with an Haqqani network-affiliated Taliban commander who was intimately involved in negotiations with the U.S. over the release of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. The takeaway: More kidnappings are “definitely” to come as a result of the deal.
“It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” the unnamed commander told TIME by telephone. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”
Amidst great debate on whether or not the deal should have happened at all are lingering questions about whether Sgt. Bergdahl was a deserter. Although Bergdahl himself has yet to give his side of the story, questions remain unanswered about what exactly Bergdahl was doing off base the night he was captured by the Taliban.
According to The New York Times, a classified military report on the night Bergdahl wandered off base in June 2009 says this wasn’t the first time. In fact, the roughly 35-page report says that he’d wandered off from both a training range in California and from his outpost in Afghanistan before returning back to his assigned area. The report concludes that Bergdahl likely did so on his own free will in the dark of night.
Perhaps more important is what the report leaves out. There is no stated conclusion as to whether or not the then Private Bergdahl had any intention to officially desert.
Nonetheless, the price tag for bringing America’s only living prisoner of war home to U.S. soil wasn’t cheap. On May 31st, the United States released five top-level Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, sending them to Qatar to live under a form of house arrest.
Some believe the deal, executed by President Obama by executive order and which Obama makes “no apologies” for, sets a dangerous precedent. Not surprisingly, the loudest criticism has come from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“What does this tell terrorists?,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz asked on ABC’s This Week following Bergdahl’s release. “That if you capture a U.S. soldier, you can trade that soldier for five terrorist prisoners?”
After hearing announcement of the deal on Saturday, Sen. John McCain criticized President Obama’s decision, calling it a “mistake.”
On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers cited the deal as a clear “break with U.S. policy.” During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the Michigan Congressman said, “The No. 1 way that Al Qaeda raises money is by ransom — kidnapping and ransom. We have now set a price.”
The two-and-a-half year back-and-fourth has resulted in the first prisoner exchange between the Taliban and the United States. And it marks an important—and very public—shift in White House policy. The deal was ultimately given the green light by the president who once vowed, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: