The Taliban says the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five top Taliban commanders in 2014 was a major “achievement” in its war against the West and its allies. The claim was made in a lengthy video released on the Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad, earlier this month.
Footage from the exchange is shown early on in the production. The scenes include Bergdahl as he is about to be transferred to American forces and the five Taliban leaders being warmly greeted after their arrival in Qatar. Screen shots can be seen below.
As The Long War Journal has reported, all five of the Taliban commanders exchanged for Bergdahl had ties to al Qaeda prior to their detention in Cuba. [See LWJ report, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl exchanged for top 5 Taliban commanders at Gitmo.]
Norullah Noori and Mohammad Fazl were both senior Taliban military commanders in Afghanistan. Khairullah Khairkhwa was the governor of the Herat province and one of Mullah Omar’s trusted lieutenants. Abdul Haq Wasiq was a senior Taliban intelligence official. And Mohammad Nabi Omari was allegedly part of a joint Taliban and al Qaeda cell that targeted US and Coalition forces. Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility, deemed all five jihadists to be “high” risks to the US, its interests and allies.
Bergdahl was initially taken into custody by Taliban fighters after he wandered off an American outpost in the Paktika province in June 2009. He was then held for years by the Haqqani Network, which is part of the Taliban coalition and closely allied with al Qaeda. Siraj Haqqani, who leads the network, is one of the Taliban’s top two deputies and has also worked with senior al Qaeda leaders. Siraj has even held a seat on al Qaeda’s elite shura (advisory) council.
The Taliban’s video is intended to highlight the jihadists’ progress in Paktika, a province in southeastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan. The people of Paktika have long resisted foreign “invaders,” according to the Taliban, including the Soviets in the 1980s and the Americans beginning in late 2001.
The propaganda production highlights footage of “martyrdom” operatives training, a class on how to build improvised explosive devices, and a suicide bomber detonating a car packed with explosives.
A brief montage of the “infidels'” alleged crimes against the “Islamic nation” is also shown. A photo of American soldiers inside a mosque is included, as is an image of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who made a name for himself by burning Korans.
But much of the video focuses on the Taliban’s military operations in several of Paktika’s districts.
The Taliban’s shadow governor for Paktika, Hafez Belal Fateh (seen on the right), speaks at least twice in the video. In one clip, he is pictured sitting between two armed guards. Fateh portrays the Taliban as being united behind Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who became the group’s emir after Mullah Omar’s death was publicly exposed in 2015. Fateh also claims that the Afghan people are aiding the Taliban’s fighters in their insurgency against the Afghan government and its coalition partners.
The video ends with a recording of Mansour, who vows that the Taliban will continue to wage jihad until an Islamic state is resurrected in Afghanistan.
Screenshots from Taliban video:
The five Taliban leaders being greeted in Qatar after their transfer from Guantanamo: