As Congress demands answers on the reasoning behind the highly-secretive exchange of five Taliban officials for captive Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, new details emerge on Bergdahl’s time in captivity. The Department of Defense has denied they paid the Taliban money for Bergdahl and have confirmed that they believe he was held in Pakistan.
In a briefing yesterday, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby confirmed that the Pentagon does not believe that Bergdahl was in Afghanistan for the entirety of his time captive with the Taliban. “We do have reason to believe that for much of his captivity, he was held in Pakistan. We also believe that he was moved around. And it’s very likely that his captors changed hands over the course of those five years,” he told reporters, raising questions about the role of the Pakistani government in helping combat the Taliban threat and releasing Bergdahl. Kirby added that the United States “obviously” had a “constant dialogue” with Pakistan. Kirby did not elaborate further on Pakistan’s role.
The spokesman was asked, however, whether Pakistan had “learned any lesson” about denying the presence of terrorists in their country, particularly in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden capture. Kirby replied in vague terms that “the threat of extremism in Pakistan, it’s part of a regional issue, and it’s a threat that we have continued to work with Pakistan on since 9/11.”
Kirby previously clarified that the United States government had only exchanged the five Taliban members for Bergdahl and that no money traded hands. “There was no money exchanged for Bergdahl’s release,” he replied, after concerns arose from some that speculated that money had to trade hands for the exchange to go smoothly.
The presence of Pakistan in the trade raises further questions about the swap, particularly given that the five Taliban leaders traded for Bergdahl are only mandated to stay within Qatar for one year and will be free to return to Afghanistan and Pakistan thereafter. Reports have circulated that four out of the five released are expected to return to the fight against the West again at some point in their release, prompting concerns that, in addition to the six soldiers that died in missions related to Bergdahl’s capture, even more will be put in danger thanks to the conditions demanded for Bergdahl’s release.
In testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel assured Congress that the deal was “in the best interests of this country,” and that the release of the Taliban prisoners was the “best, last” opportunity to bring Bergdahl home safely.