UK & World News

  • 1 June 2014, 18:29

Freed US Soldier's Health Was 'In Jeopardy'

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy" and officials had to act quickly to obtain his release, US defence chief Chuck Hagel has said.

Sgt Bergdahl was freed on Saturday after being held captive nearly five years by Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

His release was contingent on the US freeing five high-level Afghan detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the custody of officials in Qatar.

The prisoner exchange raised a few eyebrows in Washington, with Republican lawmakers questioning President Barack Obama's authority to sign-off on the deal without providing 30-days notice to Congress.

Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon and Senator James Inhofe said Mr Obama violated US law by agreeing to the exchange without congressional approval.

The White House countered by saying officials decided to go ahead with the transfer in spite of the legal requirement due to "unique and exigent circumstances".

On board a flight to Afghanistan on Sunday, Mr Hagel told reporters that closing the deal quickly was necessary because intelligence indicated that Sgt Bergdahl's health was "deteriorating".

Mr Obama's national security advisor Susan Rice also defended the move, saying on ABC's This Week that there were extensive consultations with lawmakers in the past and that they knew the prospect of an exchange was on the table.

As part of the deal the government of Qatar, which served as the go-between in the negotiations, agreed to take custody of the five Afghan detainees.

Under the conditions of their release, they will be banned from travelling outside Qatar for at least a year.

US officials hope the swap will aid efforts to reach reconciliation with the Taliban as part of the overall goal of attaining a level of security in Afghanistan.

They acknowledge, however, that there is a risk of emboldening other insurgent groups who might grab US troops or citizens in an effort the secure the release of prisoners.

Republican Senator John McCain, himself a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, issued a statement indicating he had concerns over the exchange.

He said: "These particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.

"I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan."

Sgt Bergdahl was taken prisoner in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.

After undergoing a medical evaluation at Bagram Air Field, Sgt Bergdahl was transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

He is expected to be reunited with his family the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas before finally heading home to Idaho, where residents in Hailey are preparing a homecoming celebration for the 28-year-old soldier.

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