In May of 2014, then-President Barack Obama enthusiastically announced a highly controversial swap of five terrorists detained at a U.S. Military prison in Guantanamo Bay (AKA Gitmo) to the Taliban in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, an Army sergeant who was suspected of desertion at the time and would later plead guilty to the act.
The five terrorists freed by the Obama administration have since joined the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, confirmed Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid to the Military Times on Tuesday.
The men will “be among Taliban representatives negotiating for peace in Afghanistan,” reports the Military Times, “a sign some negotiators in Kabul say indicates the Taliban’s desire for a peace pact.”
Alternatively, “Others fear the five, all of whom were close to the insurgent group’s founder and hard-line leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, bring with them the same ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam that characterized the group’s five-year rule that ended in 2001 with the U.S.-led invasion,” says the report.
“The Taliban are bringing back their old generation, which means the Taliban have not changed their thinking or their leadership,” said Haroun Mir, a political analyst based in the Afghan capital. “What we are more worried about is if tomorrow the Taliban say ‘we are ready to negotiate,’ who will represent Kabul? That is the big challenge because the government is so divided, not just ideologically but on ethnic lines.”
A member of the Afghan government peace council, Mohammed Ismail Qasimyar, “warned Washington against negotiating peace terms with the Taliban, saying [Zalmay] Khalilzad’s only job is to set the stage for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, something the insurgents have so far refused, calling the government a U.S. puppet,” notes the Military Times. Taliban officials said they met with Khalilzad in Qatar a few weeks ago.
A former Taliban member and current member of the Afghan government peace council, Hakim Mujahed, said the five freed Gitmo detainees “are respected among all the Taliban. Their word carries weight with the Taliban leadership and the mujahedeen.”
As noted by the Military Times, all five of the freed Gitmo detainees have disturbing pasts. One of the five, for example, former Taliban army chief Mohammed Fazl, oversaw the murder of thousands of minority Shiites in 2000, according to Human Rights Watch.
And in January of 2015, one of the freed Taliban detainees “attempted to return to militant activity from his current location in Qatar by making contact with suspected Taliban associates in Afghanistan,” reported CNN.
Sources “would not say which of the five men is suspected,” CNN reported. “But an ongoing U.S. intelligence program to secretly intercept and monitor all of their communications in Qatar turned up evidence in recent months that one of them has ‘reached out’ to try to encourage militant activity, one official said. The official would offer no further details.”
“What I can say with confidence is this individual has not returned to the battlefield, this individual is not allowed to travel outside Qatar, and this individual has not engaged in any physical violence,” said then-White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
According to TIME Magazine, six American troops were killed in the hunt to find Berdghal after he deserted his base. The sergeant was dishonorably discharged and fined last year.