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Five top Taliban officers released from Gitmo for Bowe Bergdahl join Qatar office, says Taliban

Bowe Bergdahl (U.S. Army/Released)
October 31, 2018

Five former Guantanamo Bay prisoners, senior members of the Afghan Taliban who were freed in exchange for former Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2014, have reportedly joined one of the Taliban’s political offices in the Middle East.

The “Taliban Five” have joined the group’s political office in Qatar, according to Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The five men will apparently be a part of the group that tries to negotiate peace in Afghanistan.

“The Taliban are bringing back their old generation, which means the Taliban have not changed their thinking or their leadership,” Haroun Mir, political analyst in Kabul, told the Associated Press. “What we are more worried about is if tomorrow the Taliban say ‘we are ready to negotiate,’ who will represent Kabul? That is the big challenge because the government is so divided, not just ideologically but on ethnic lines.”

Bergdahl pleaded guilty last year to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after deserting his outpost in Afghanistan; he will not serve prison time. He was held captive by the Taliban for five years.

After Bergdahl left his post in 2009, he was held as a Taliban prisoner until 2014, when the Obama Administration was able to get him back to the United States through a prisoner swap – the “Taliban Five.” Bergdahl was released in exchange for the five Guantanamo Bay detainees.

Bergdahl was later sentenced to a drop in rank from sergeant to private, forfeiture of $10,000 in pay, and a dishonorable discharge from the military, which means he will not be eligible to receive medical or other benefits.

The men are Mohammed Fazl, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Nori, Mohammad Nabi Omari, most of whom were top Taliban leaders and officers.

Khairkhwa is said to have been close with Taliban founder Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the AP pointed out.

Bergdahl could have served a life sentence in prison. The prosecutors said Bergdahl should receive 14 years in prison and a punitive discharge from the military. Bergdahl’s defense attorneys had argued in favor of leniency, and said he should receive a dishonorable discharge and no prison time – that he has faced enough punishment after five years of captivity.

U.S. intelligence agents also testified in military court that Bergdahl was a “gold mine” of information after being released, painting a contrasting picture to the previous days’ testimony. Once released from captivity, Bergdahl was “motivated” and eager to help intelligence officials, they had testified.

There have been reported talks in advance of peace negotiations for the $900 billion war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in August that the pressure is on the Taliban to reconcile with the Afghanistan government as peace talks are underway.

Over the summer, Mattis did not confirm whether or not a secret meeting took place between a U.S. State Department member and the Taliban, as reports suggested.

A Taliban official, who claimed to be among four Taliban members in the meeting, said they had met with Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs. The official described the meeting as a “friendly atmosphere” that held “very positive signals.”

“You can’t call it peace talks,” the official had said. “These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue.”

A second Taliban official said: “We have held three meetings with the U.S. and we reached a conclusion to continue talks for meaningful negotiations.”

U.S. officials would not confirm whether the meeting occurred, giving only vague indications that the U.S. was pursuing peace in Afghanistan.

“The United States is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” a State Department official had said. “Any negotiations over the political future of Afghanistan will be between the Taliban and Afghan government.”