Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner exchange ‘won’t help the peace process in any way’ – Taliban spokesman

One of the Taliban’s top spokesmen said that the recent prisoner exchange between the US and the Taliban will do nothing to further US hopes for reconciliation in Afghanistan as the Taliban “don’t believe in the peace process.”

The exchange of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who reportedly went absent without leave while on duty in Paktika province in 2009, for five senior al Qaeda-linked Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay took place over the weekend. The five Taliban leaders, who were deemed “high” risks to the US and its allies by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), include two accused of war crimes by the UN.

The five freed Taliban commanders have been identified as Abdul Haq Wasiq, an intelligence official; Mullah Norullah Noori, senior military commander; Mullah Mohammad Fazl, the Taliban’s former deputy minister of defense; Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, the Taliban’s former governor of Herat province; and Mohammad Nabi Omari, a senior leader. JTF-GTMO had previously recommended that all five remain in custody as they posed a threat to the US. [See LWJ reports, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl exchanged for top 5 Taliban commanders at Gitmo, and Taliban says ‘five senior leaders’ have been ‘liberated’ from Guantanamo.]

The prisoner exchange took place over the course of several months of negotiations between the US and the Taliban which were brokered by the government of Qatar. The five Taliban leaders have been sent to Qatar and are banned from travel for one year.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had told NBC’s Meet the Press that the US is hopeful that the negotiations that led to the prisoner exchange can further reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

“So maybe this will be a new opening that can produce an agreement,” between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Hagel said yesterday.

Within hours, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid shot down Hagel’s optimism for reconciliation.

“It won’t help the peace process in any way, because we don’t believe in the peace process,” Mujahid said.

Instead of portraying the exchange as the beginning of reconciliation, Taliban emir Mullah Mohammed Omar called the release of the five commanders a “great victory” and a “huge and vivid triumph.” The Taliban also published photos of the five released commanders as they arrived in Qatar. [See LWJ report, Mullah Omar hails release of 5 top Taliban commanders as ‘great victory’.]

“This huge accomplishment brings the glad tidings of liberation of the whole country and reassures us that our aspirations are on the verge of fulfillment,” Omar said, according to a statement released yesterday at the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad.

Taliban have rejected peace talks in the past

This is the second time this year that US calls for reconciliation have been rejected by the Taliban. In January, the White House reiterated that it wanted to negotiate with the Taliban.

“We call again on the Taliban to put down their arms and begin peace talks, which is the surest way to end the conflict in a peaceful manner,” the White House statement said.

The Taliban immediately rejected the White House’s plea for peace talks.

“We strongly reject the American demand,” Zabihullah Mujahid, an official Taliban spokesman, said in an email sent to The Long War Journal.

The US government has unsuccessfully pursued peace talks with the Taliban for the past five years. The administration has stated that a peace deal with the Taliban will end the fighting and prevent al Qaeda from operating in the country.

Previously, the US has demanded that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda and join the Afghan political process. The demand that the Taliban denounce al Qaeda was dropped last year as the Taliban were permitted to open an office in Qatar. Western officials wanted the Taliban to use the office to conduct peace talks, but the Taliban insisted it was to be used to raise the profile of the group in the international community and serve as a “political office.” Additionally, the Taliban said they would use the office in Qatar to secure the release of the five al Qaeda-linked commanders who were finally freed this weekend. [See LWJ report, Taliban want release of 5 al Qaeda-linked commanders in exchange for captured US soldier; and Threat Matrix report, Taliban insist on using ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,’ flying flag at Qatar ‘political office.’]

The Taliban signaled in early 2012, during another US push for peace talks, that they had no intentions of disowning al Qaeda, and refused to denounce international terrorism. A Taliban spokesman even said that al Qaeda is officially operating under the banner of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

“They [al Qaeda] are among the first groups and banners that pledged allegiance to the Emir of the Believers [Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban], and they operate in Afghanistan under the flag of the Islamic Emirate,” a spokesman to jihadist forums known as Abdullah al Wazir said in February 2012.

“They are an example of discipline and accuracy in the execution of missions and operations entrusted to them by the Military Command of the Islamic Emirate,” Wazir continued, calling al Qaeda “lions in war.” [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda ‘operates in Afghanistan under the flag of the Islamic Emirate’: Taliban spokesman; and Threat Matrix report, Taliban expand list of demands, refuse to denounce ‘international terrorism.’]

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • jayc says:

    Here’s what the boot-wearing soldier thinks of what transpired:
    “U.S. concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl walked away”
    Associated Press By KEN DILANIAN and DEB RIECHMANN
    Hagel, visiting troops in Afghanistan, was met with silence when he told a group of them in a Bagram Air Field hangar: “This is a happy day. We got one of our own back.”

  • Way to go, Team America. We scored another self-inflicted wound and demonstrated our inability to comprehend the radical Islamic mindset. Everything outside their world is considered to be subject to conquest. The US information operations campaign leveraging fissures within the Islamic world is nowhere to be seen.

  • I highly doubt that he was abducted. He betrayed our country and now he is being classified as a “hero.” Heroes are the men and women that put their lives in danger to allow us to have peace.
    He belongs in prison!

  • Matt says:

    No one gets left behind, he made.a mistake going outside the wire with ANSF he thought were his mates, niave but not a traitor and was taken hostage and sold to haqqani. In Israel we swap 1000 terrorists with blood on their hands for Gilad Shilat. Sure we liquidated 1000 during Op Cast Lead, so it was the same 1000. Shin bet has arrested a few a few have died in CT operations. So point being if after 12 months once they leave Qatar if we see them coming the other way they will be liquidated via drones. So I think the NA risk angle is overblown. It was hard in Israel as they had blood on their hands of other Israelis. It was very painful. Bo and Gilad, either when he is in the states or Bo should visit Israel.

  • Michael Green says:

    Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal is a disgrace to the uniform he once wore. As we are learning more and more about his willful and premeditated desertion, it is clear that justice needs to be served on him as per the UCMJ, article 85, part C.
    The fact that Obama had Bergdhal’s father met with him at a nationally televised press conference and smiled when Mr. Bergdahl recited what muslim terrorists love to say : “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” —which means “In the name of Allah, most Gracious, most Compassionate.” Is truly outrageous and insulting to all who have been slaughtered by these 7th century mohammedan murderers.

  • M3fd2002 says:

    Elections have consequences. But, im probably preaching to the choir, given the sentiments expressed on the subject. There is at least 2.5 years of this leadership. I’m expecting more of the same, hopefully not worse!

  • Patrick says:

    This entire episode is almost a caraciture of every criticism the Obama administration seems to bring upon itself. What an absolute travesty. Also, Robert Bergdahl’s statement in Arabic while standing next to the POTUS was salt in the wound. A wink and nod to his Islamic brethren who wage war against the men this POTUS is supposed to lead.

  • daddyo says:

    1. I don’t blame a father for attempting to get his son out of a dangerous situation. I do blame him for lending aid and comfort to the enemy with the comments alleged above. It was a treasonous act. I thought he was a Calvinist minister?
    2. I don’t blame BB for being an immature self-righteous young idiot. There’s lots of them on the street and in uniform. I do blame him for desertion and possible treason. He must be held accountable for his actions to the fullest extent of the UCMJ.
    3. I don’t blame the administration for trying to get him back despite the circumstances. I do blame them for bad staff work in trying to sell him as hero. Prosecuting him, after medical clearance, may set a stern example for generations to come of the consequences of one’s actions. The long term value of the lesson to future soldiers may outweigh the near term risk to soldiers.
    4. We need a draft to force the American people to have some skin in the game and on the outcome. The all volunteer force may improve the quality of the individual serviceman, but it allows the American people to ignore foreign policy. If we are not willing to spend a 100 years in a country, kill all the OPFOR, marry the women, and make the children learn English and love baseball; we likely lack the national will to achieve the desired outcome, and should consider lesser options than war and occupation.
    5. If I understand correctly, the US conducted prisoner exchanges up and through the civil war.
    6. I apologize for the extended rant in advance and hope I have offended no one. I am not looking for an argument, but rather am trying to aassess the situation for what it is.


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