A few days after Taliban leader Mullah Omar described the release of five top Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of American soldier Sgt Bowe Bergdahl as ‘a great victory’, the group released a video entitled ‘Ceremony of the American soldier exchange’ on Wednesday documenting Bergdahl’s handover.
“We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but we are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt Bergdahl the care he needs,” the Pentagon said.
In the video posted on Taliban website Al-Amarah, Bergdahl is shown surrounded by Taliban fighters in Khost province, before a US helicopter arrives to transport him. The narration, in Pashto, congratulates the release of the Taliban leaders, called ‘heroes’.
Bergdahl, clean shaven, dressed in a white shalwar-kameez and with a shaved head, is seen waiting in a white pick-up truck as Taliban militants talk to him. According to the video’s narrator, 18 armed militants stood guard as the handover took place and another helicopter waited at a nearby hill. The message “Do not come back to Afghanistan” flashes onscreen as the helicopter takes off and the narrator adds, “Next time no one will release you.”
One of the Taliban members present at the handover told Al-Amarah that the group entered the Bati area of Khost province, bordering Pakistan, for Bergdahl’s release. However, he did not comment on where the captive soldier had been held.
“When (he) saw American planes in the air he became so excited and was going to run in excitement. We told him to wait until the helicopter landed,” he said. He added that local elders had been asked to be present to facilitate the process, if required. When the US officials met the Taliban members, they were ‘confused’ and did not stay longer than 14 or 15 minutes, he said, adding that the Taliban had wished to send a message to the US leadership through these men, but did not have an opportunity to do so. “Everything was done so quickly that we didn’t manage to see the soldier off properly,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 5th, 2014.
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