Taliban Release Video Of Bergdahl Transfer To Special Forces
The Taliban have released a video that appears to show the turnover of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. Special Forces:
Reuters) – A dazed Bowe Bergdahl is led by two militants, one carrying a makeshift white flag on a stick, to a Blackhawk helicopter in eastern Afghanistan ending his five years’ in captivity, a video released by the Taliban showed on Wednesday.
In the first publicly aired footage of Bergdahl’s dramatic handover to the U.S. military at the weekend, the clip shows Taliban cadres dotted on nearby hills armed with rocket launchers watching the transfer.
The operation, from the moment the helicopter touched the ground amid a cloud of dust to take-off, was all over in a minute.
“Do not panic,” the militants shout as the Blackhawk lands in the barren valley deep in Khost province, close to the border with Pakistan.
Bergdahl, a U.S. army sergeant, was released on Saturday in exchange for five senior insurgent leaders, who had been held in a U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since it opened in 2002.
Before his rescue, Bergdahl is seen sitting in the rear seat of a 4-wheel-drive truck, blinking rapidly, apparently either dazed by the light or anxious about the events unfolding around him.
A plane and helicopters are seen circling overhead as fighters chant “long live our mujahideen” and “long live the spiritual leader”, referring to the Taliban’s reclusive Mullah Mohammad Omar.
As the Blackhawk lands, two of the militants approach the helicopter, one carrying a white cloth crudely tied to a stick and the other leading Bergdahl by the hand.
Three men walk from the American chopper. One is an interpreter, the Taliban’s reporter says in the clip.
One of Bergdahl’s escorts has his faced covered by a checkered scarf and in the cloud of dust thrown up by the Blackhawk, the tension is clear. Soldiers dressed in military fatigue stand by the helicopter observing the handover.
One of the American team steps forward to shake their hands, keeping as wide a distance as possible as though worried the militants might blow themselves up.
He quickly offers his right hand to one, his left hand to the other and simultaneously grabs Bergdahl by the arm. In the same movement, he sweeps his hand across to Bergdahl’s back.
“We told them: if he is not in good health, please tell us. We tried to communicate with them through their interpreter, but they did not wait,” the Taliban reporter says in the clip.
As the first man leads the freed prisoner to the aircraft, the interpreter waves and the second man steps backwards, his eyes still trained on the Taliban.
A careful but rapid body search is performed before Bergdahl is helped aboard the Blackhawk. Then, they take position with their legs dangling and lift off.
The video starts plays a Taliban victory song and the message in English flashes up: “Don’ come back to Afghanistan”. Then, it cuts to the arrival of the five released leaders in Qatar after more than a decade spent in Guantanamo Bay, where they are received with warm embraces.
Since it appears to be genuine, there will be many, of course, who will examine the video in an effort to make some assessment of what condition Bergdahl was in at the time of his release. This is relevant, at least to some extent, because the Obama Administration has cited his supposedly declining health as the chief reason why they could not comply with the law requiring notice to Congress prior to any deal that included the release of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. Obviously, the value of such observations is limited at best and we ought to rely on what his doctors treating him at the military hospital in Germany have to say about the matter to a larger degree than observations off a grainy video. Nonetheless, it does appear from the video that Bergdahl, while obviously and understandably undernourished and clearly thinner than he appears in photographs from five years ago, is in good enough physical health to walk mostly on his own and, though dazed as described above, seems relatively aware of what’s going on around him. If there is something about his medical condition that made immediate release a necessity, it is not readily apparent in this video. The question for his own future, of course, is what kind of psychological damage he may have suffered during his long captivity.
Update: The video that was embedded in this post appears to have been deleted from the Associated Press’s YouTube Channel. If I find another version of the video, I’ll post it here.