Chuck Hagel Praises Release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
BBC is reporting:
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has praised US forces in Afghanistan over the release of a US soldier held for nearly five years by the Taliban.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed to US Special Forces in south-eastern Afghanistan as part of a prisoner swap.
Mr. Hagel met some of those involved at Bagram airbase north of Kabul during a previously unannounced visit.
In return, five senior Afghan detainees have been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba.
The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has reportedly hailed their release.
“I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahedeen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory regarding the release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo prison,” he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.
The Pentagon has been criticized for not giving Congress the required 30-day notification before releasing the detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
But Mr. Hagel, who has reportedly met some of the Special Forces team involved in the operation – said the military believed the soldier was in danger, and had to act quickly “essentially to save his life”.
“No shots were fired,” said Mr. Hagel of the prisoner hand-over. “It went as well as it could have.”
While hopeful the prisoner exchange could lead to a breakthrough in negotiations with the Taliban, Mr. Hagel said getting Sgt Bergdahl back had been the priority.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was informed of the prisoner-swap “after the fact”, he added.
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