A Taliban video that emerged Wednesday shows for the first time the release of captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl into American custody after five years in captivity.
The 17-minute video shows Bergdahl, who was released last week in exchange for five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay, waiting in a pick-up truck in Khost province on the border with Pakistan. Bergdahl is then walked over to a waiting Black Hawk helicopter and handed over to U.S. forces. According to a BBC translation of the footage, one of the militants can be heard saying: “Do not come back to Afghanistan. If you do, next time we will kill you.”
The video ends with the helicopter flying Bergdahl out of the area. A U.S. military official didn’t deny the video’s authenticity.
“We are aware of the video allegedly released by the Taliban showing the transfer into U.S. hands of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. “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.”
U.S. officials said 18 Taliban fighters were present, who can be seen in the video armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. Three apparently unarmed or lightly armed U.S. forces are seen taking custody of the army sergeant, patting him down before loading him onto the helicopter.
Bergdahl was flown to a military hospital in Germany where he is said to be in a stable condition. Bergdahl’s father, who has not yet spoken to his son, said once his treatment is over he will then be flown to an army medical center in Texas.
The prisoner exchange has sparked fierce criticism from Republicans in Congress who note President Barack Obama flouted a legal provision requiring congressional notification of any transfers from Guantanamo. Bergdahl has also come under fire amid reports that he was captured after apparently leaving base and that other soldiers died trying to find him. Some have branded him a “deserter.”
–with reporting from Zeke J Miller