The Taliban released video early Wednesday showing its fighters handing over Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan after five years of holding the soldier captive.
In the video, Taliban fighters are seen perched with RPGs on a hillside while others carrying machine guns stand around a pickup truck where Bergdahl is waiting inside, appearing gaunt and blinking frequently. A single Black Hawk helicopter then lands and three ununiformed men emerge.
Two Taliban fighters, under a white flag, then walk out and meet the civilian-clothed U.S. forces halfway and hand over the prisoner. Bergdahl is seen wearing traditional Afghan clothing and carrying what appears to be a plastic bag as U.S. forces shake hands with the Taliban captors and escort him to safety on board the helicopter.
In response to the video’s release, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said Wednesday, “We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but we are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs.”
Bergdahl, an Idaho native, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 2009 until the exchange Saturday. The 28-year-old has been accused by his fellow soldiers of willingly leaving his post.
A 2010 Pentagon investigation into Bergdahl’s disappearance concluded that he walked away but stopped short of calling him a deserter, officials told the Associated Press.
On Sunday, Bergdahl was moved from Afghanistan to a U.S. hospital in Germany, where he will remain until he is well enough to return home.
According to U.S. government officials, Sgt. Bergdahl was the only remaining American soldier captured in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. His release was part of a negotiation that included the trade of five Taliban detainees held at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Republicans and others in the U.S. have criticized the move, saying it sets a bad precedent by negotiating with “terrorists.”
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