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Taliban Releases Video of Bowe Bergdahl Exchange

05 June 2014

Taliban release footage of Bergdahl handover

Video appears to show Taliban fighters clutching a white flag as they hand over captured soldier to US special forces.

The Taliban have released footage of the moments of their handover of US army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to US forces after his five years in captivity.

The video posted on Wednesday, which cannot be independently verified, apparently shows Taliban fighters walking Bergdahl towards a US military helicopter while holding a white flag.

A group of men, believed to be US special forces, then take Bergdahl back to the helicopter after briefly exchanging handshakes with the Taliban fighters.

Bergdahl, the only US soldier held by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, was freed on Saturday in exchange for five senior Taliban members detained at Guantanamo Bay in a deal brokered by Qatar.

His release has evoked sharp criticism from some US politicians, who fear they could return to the battlefield and pose a threat to Americans abroad.

The Taliban video, entitled "Ceremony of the American soldier exchange", at one point also displays the words "Don't Come Back to Afghanistan" superimposed over footage of Bergdahl.

A male voiceover in the video, laced with religious music and chants of "Allahu Akbar," said the exchange occurred in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.

"The Americans contacted us and asked us where was a good place to meet. We contacted tribal elders to come and join us, because we do not trust them [Americans]," the voiceover said, the AFP news agency reported.

US defence officials have said dozens of US special forces troops backed up by helicopters were sent for the handover.

"Fortunately, no shots were fired," Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday. "There was no violence. It went as well as we not only had expected and planned, but I think as well as it could have."

Bergdahl is now being treated at a US military facility in Germany.

The US military's top officer General Martin Dempsey said on Tuesday that Bergdahl may be disciplined if the army holds him guilty of misconduct, after claims from members of his unit that he had been captured in 2009 after abandoning his post.

Al-Jazeera & Agencies

US-Taliban prisoner swap inspires tentative hopes for Afghan peace

By Michael Pizzi - Al-Jazeera America

Taliban welcomed release of Gitmo detainees and US troop withdrawal, two conditions for broaching peace

The leaders of Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency have long refused to broach the subject of peace talks until its captured senior leaders are released and all foreign troops depart the country.

So the U.S.'s unprecedented step on Saturday of swapping five high-profile Taliban prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay for the only U.S. prisoner of war taken in Afghanistan — just days after President Barack Obama announced that almost all U.S. troops would leave the country by the end of 2016 — gave rise to hopes for a rejuvenated peace process as the U.S. prepares to end its longest war.

"Maybe this will be a new opening that can produce an agreement" between the Taliban and the Afghan government, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview with NBC on Sunday.

Just hours after Hagel planted that seed of hope, a Taliban spokesman denied the exchange would have any bearing on peace talks. "It won't help the peace process in any way because we don't believe in the peace process," said Zabihullah Mujahid.

But in the past six days, some believe the U.S. has made greater strides toward satisfying what are believed to be the Taliban's foremost conditions for entering into peace talks with the Afghan government than it did during the first 13 years of war combined.

Despite the hard-line rhetoric of mujahid and other Taliban officials, who in public statements have always sworn off talking peace, it is believed that there is a significant faction of the splintered Taliban leadership structure that is eager for peace. Some have even sat down for talks with the government of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai in recent months, though there has been no indication of progress.

At best, the U.S. has only partly satisfied these conditions — some troops will remain in the country in noncombat roles after 2016, and there are plenty of other Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody — but the timing seems to suggest renewed U.S. resolve to kick-start talks between the insurgents and the Karzai administration.

As US withdrawal looms, Taliban ponders talking peace

By Michael Pizzi - Al-Jazeera America

After 13 years of war in Afghanistan, with the looming exit of foreign troops, Taliban said to be ripe for compromise

The longest war in America's history will be concluded by year's end, with the enemy undefeated. U.S. combat forces are preparing to depart Afghanistan having failed to stamp out the Taliban, which still poses a formidable threat to the fragile political and security order the U.S. will leave behind.

Vastly superior U.S. firepower was able to periodically scatter Taliban fighters back into the Afghan countryside, but not to stop them from returning. For most analysts, Taliban resilience was partly a product of help from neighboring Pakistan.

Not so, say the fighters featured in an upcoming Al Jazeera Fault Lines episode, "On the Front Lines With the Taliban."

"If we see any Pakistani forces we'll fight them too," said one Taliban fighter, from Logar province, in eastern Afghanistan. "Whoever tries to conquer our country — Pakistanis or other foreigners — we'll fight them until the end. Until there is not even one foreign soldier here, we will never make peace."

Still, the U.S. withdrawal, perhaps counterintuitively, creates a moment of hope for war-weary Afghans: If the Taliban is to be taken at its word, the U.S. departure would seem to remove the insurgency's purpose, diminishing the basis for its narrative of resistance against foreign troops. And with the country's first democratic transfer of power scheduled to take place after elections next month, many Afghans hope the Taliban's leadership might be more receptive to the idea of peace talks with the successor to President Hamid Karzai. Despite a recent chill in his relations with Washington, Karzai is widely viewed as an American puppet.

"The Taliban are ripe for talks and compromise," said Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani author of several books on Afghanistan and the Taliban, in a phone interview from his home in Lahore. The Taliban have sustained heavy casualties, and the leadership is ready to return home to Afghanistan, Rashid said.

"There is a peace lobby in the Taliban who will want to resume broken negotiations once the U.S. leaves," he said. "But the Taliban will have to make an internal political decision after next month's elections. Everything is on hold until then."

U.S. officials don't expect the withdrawal to have a significant impact on the balance of power between Afghan and Taliban forces — security responsibilities have long since been transferred to the Afghan National Army and its constituent forces. But it could not have come at a more pivotal moment for the fragile Afghan state.

 

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