UK & World News
Taliban Releases Video Of Hostage Handover
The Taliban have released a video showing American hostage Sgt Bowe Bergdahl being handed over to US forces in Afghanistan.
Sgt Bergdahl, clean shaven and dressed in white Afghan clothing with a shaved head, is seen waiting in a white pickup truck close to the Afghan border with Pakistan as Taliban militants outside lean in to talk to him.
He is blinking frequently in the bright light as he looks at and listens to his captors. He appears to struggle to speak English.
The 17 minutes of footage shows armed gunmen dotting the hills around the valley, as US Black Hawk helicopters overhead draw closer to the meeting point.
The Taliban reporter speaking over the clip explains: "We told them there are 18 armed fighters and the Americans said that's all right."
As one of the helicopters lands, throwing up a cloud of dust, Sgt Bergdahl is led to his rescuers by two men, one leading him by the hand, and another waving a white cloth tied to a wooden stick.
Most of the Taliban have their faces covered with scarves, while Sgt Bergdahl wears his over his shoulders.
After a brief exchange of handshakes between insurgents and US forces, Bergdahl moves unsteadily towards the helicopter.
Before boarding the helicopter the freed man is patted down to check he is not carrying any weapons.
The aircraft takes off and the message in English flashes up: "Don' come back to afghanistan (sic)."
The Taliban video, entitled Ceremony Of The American Soldier Exchange, is laced with religious music and chants of "Allahu Akbar", or "God is greatest".
At one point the voiceover says: "I congratulate all the mujahideen for this victory."
Sky's Diplomatic Editor Tim Marshall said: "The meaning of the pictures is that we see visual evidence that the Taliban are negotiating with the Americans on almost an equal basis.
"It is a propaganda coup for the Taliban."
US defence officials have said dozens of US special forces troops backed up by helicopters were sent for the handover.
On Wednesday, Sgt Bergdahl's Idaho hometown of Hailey cancelled plans to celebrate his release later this month, citing security concerns after it received a flood of abusive emails and phone calls.
An official press release later said that the town, of around 8,000 people, simply didn't have the infrastructure to support the event.
Five years after he was captured by Afghan militants, Sgt Bergdahl was freed at the weekend in exchange for five militants held at Guantanamo Bay.
There is a suggestion Sgt Bergdahl could face disciplinary action over claims from members of his unit that he was captured in 2009 after abandoning his post.
However, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that critics should not rush to judgement.
"It's not in the interests of anyone and certainly, I think, a bit unfair to Sergeant Bergdahl's family and to him to presume anything," he told reporters at a Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
"We don't do that in the United States. We rely on facts."
The Pentagon chief called Sgt Bergdahl's family on Wednesday to wish them well, an unnamed defence official told AP news agency.
Mr Hagel told them his department would continue to support the soldier's medical care and reintegration, according to the official.
Sgt Bergdahl's release has led to sharp criticism of the Obama administration, with some US politicians fearing it poses a threat to Americans abroad.
He was the only US soldier held by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan.
The 28-year-old is now in a military hospital in Germany, undergoing physical and mental assessments.