A major Taliban figurehead declares victory. No, there were no hijacked planes crashing into towers nor was there a bomb that killed multiples Westerners.
Instead, what former Taliban chief Mullah Omar brags triumphantly about is the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners freed by the United States government in exchange for the last American prisoner-of-war in Afghanistan – Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahedeen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory,” These were the exact words of the Taliban leader.
He had all the right to brag about the swap. It seemed as though the entire deal was too generous on the side of the terrorists.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after he had left his army base in east Afghanistan on the 30th of June 2009. This was five years ago. His motives for leaving his base without permission – a violation of military protocol – remains unclear and is the subject of scrutiny by naysayers of the deal.
In fact, another soldier in Bergdahl’s platoon had harsher words for the newly-released American soldier – branding him a “deserter”. Former Army Sgt. Matt Vierkant says he is “pissed off more than ever” about “everything that is going on.”
“Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.” Vierkant claims. He then said the former should instead face a military trial for deserting in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Another fellow soldier, Infantry Officer Nathan Bethea said reports of Bergdahl “lagging behind during a patrol” are “not true” and that the latter was relieved from guard duty that night but instead of going to sleep, instead left the camp on foot.
Eight soldiers died and hundreds more were injured in search of the captured Army sergeant.
If that already seems like an unfair trade – losing eight brave soldiers and injuring hundreds more in exchange for an alleged deserter – the further terms of this exchange would surely infuriate anyone.
President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, justified the deal by saying it was part of American military tradition to “never leave a soldier in the battlefield.” She then goes on the say that the prisoners were deemed to no longer be a threat to United States security personnel.
However, a background check on the five released Taliban prisoners would refute her claim.
Abdul Haq Wasiq, in his 40s, is the former deputy minister for intelligence gathering in the former Taliban state. He had brokered a deal to train Taliban officers in al-Qaeda camps and used his office to support al-Qaeda operations. In addition, he has been accused by Human Rights Watch of mass killings and torturing civilians.
Mullah Noori, also in his 40s, is a high-ranking Taliban commander who is close friends with Mullah Omar. He was also a governor in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and is wanted by the United Nations for the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Mullah Mohammad Fazi is another senior Taliban commander, the leader of the group’s 22nd Division and was once the chief of staff of the entire organization. He is also implicated in the massacre of thousands of Muslims which Mullah Noori is wanted for. A report by the U.S. Defense department says that Fazi is a notorious Taliban recruiter and is expected to spearhead recruitment efforts once released.
Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa has close ties with both Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden himself. Khairkhwa is also known to be a powerful opium drug trafficker and was the head of a major al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan until his arrest.
And finally Mohammad Nabi Omari is a former car salesman who is also a weapons dealer. Omari fought the Soviets during their invasion of Afghanistan in the 80’s and commandeered a border division for the Taliban. In 2002, Omari helped smuggle two long-ranged missiles into Pakistan to aid local terrorists.
These five ex-Gitmo captives hold CVs rich with extensive involvement in terrorist activities, and are war criminals as well wanted by the United Nations. In fact, Arizona Republican senator John McCain branded these men, “the hardest of the hard-core” while news outlets have branded them the “Taliban Dream Team”.
It is not hard to understand President Obama’s and Susan Rice’s rationale in ensuring that one of their own does not get left behind. But the deal seems to be doing more harm than good.
It is already speculated that once released, all five detainees will assume key Taliban leadership roles and pose a threat to the already dwindling number of American personnel left in Afghanistan.
It comes as bad timing too. The United States is slowly phasing out their troops from Afghanistan to anticipate for a total pull-out by 2016. They are leaving the Afghan army in charge of keeping the Taliban at bay, an army who have already admitted to be ill-equipped and heavily outnumbered by their enemy.
The United States just made their plight even worse by injecting fresh new leaders into the Taliban ranks. In addition to that, Republican congressman Mike Rogers made a powerful point that negotiating such a deal has “now set a price” on the heads of U.S soldiers.
Rogers argues that since a single US soldier captured guarantees at least five Taliban prisoners, the terrorist group will now target U.S. soldiers in hopes of swapping them for captured jihadists.
That scenario is very plausible and won’t be surprising if we do see a trend in an increased number of captured US troops.
Ronald Reagan was once criticized for negotiating with Iran for the release of captured American soldiers. But at least in his case he didn’t release blood-hungry terrorists and instead sold low-grade weapons to a nation that is a member of the UN.
Hostage negotiating is never easy, particularly if you need to consistent with foreign policy. But in this case, Mrs. Rice and President Obama seemed to have made a big blunder in sending a message to terrorists that their administration is open for the business of prisoner swapping. Even for an alleged deserter.
To make matters more insulting for the families of veterans, during a televised broadcast at the White House – President Obama presented Bowe Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani.
The mother made the expected remark of saying she can’t wait to see her son again. But the father, Bob, made a more controversial remark. He began his speech by reciting the most frequent phrase in the Koran — “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” —which means “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.”
This is the same phrase remarked when hard-line Islamist leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who has called the US the “great satan” – make before addressing the UN General Assembly. This is the same phrase Osama Bin Laden used to make when he sent recorded footage of himself addressing US soldiers they will face death.
And to top it all of, after making that remark the President of the United States hugged Robert Bergdahl.
More than 3,000 American troops have perished in Afghanistan so far, after being sent there with the aim of freeing the Afghan people from the oppressive Taliban and disbanding the organization before it can launch further attacks anywhere in the world.
It seems like those deaths are being put to vain. The administration of Barack Obama pulled out troops from Iraq in 2011, today al-Qaeda has reclaimed Fallujah and is gaining ground and are poised to take the entire country. The scenario should not be any different once the US pulls out of Afghanistan.
You would expect President Obama to at least leave Afghanistan, a nation where his people have sacrificed so much, in good hands. But according to reports they are not planning to leave behind their hardware. A disappointment for the ill-equipped Afghan soldiers.
To make matters worse, the Taliban now have five of their most notorious leaders back. Back to the battlefield and ready to cast revenge on the US troops.
Welcome back to the United States, Sgt. Bergdahl. I hope you live a good life, because your comrades in the battlefield in Afghanistan sure sacrificed their chance at one so you could return safely to the country you chose to serve.
This is welcome news to the family, but certainly a bad bargain for the United States as a whole.