TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry: Taliban Freed For Bergdahl Could Get Killed If They Rejoin Fight

"I don't think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans," Kerry said

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Secretary of State John Kerry issued a warning for the five Taliban leaders who were recently freed in exchange for a long-held American soldier: Rejoin the battlefield at your own risk.

“I’m not telling you that they don’t have some ability at some point to go back and get involved [in the fight],” Kerry told CNN in an interview that aired Sunday. “But they also have an ability to get killed doing that.

“I don’t think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans,” Kerry said. “These guys pick a fight with us in the future or now or at any time at enormous risk.”

Kerry didn’t elaborate, but given the United States’ use of unmanned drones in the fight against terrorist leaders, it was easy to interpret his remarks as a not-so-veiled threat. They were some of Kerry’s first public remarks since Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed May 31 after five years of Taliban captivity, in a prisoner exchange for the five Guantanamo Bay detainees—a deal that has sparked sharp criticism from congressional Republicans. The detainees were released into the custody of Qatar, and Kerry said the U.S. would be watching to make sure conditions of the release are honored.

“And if they’re violated, then we have the ability to be able to do things,” Kerry said.

Reports emerged Sunday that Bergdahl has told the people treating him he was tortured and kept in a cage while held by the Taliban.

Senior Taliban leders told TIME this week that the trade would embolden them to kidnap more American soldiers, but Kerry dismissed the notion that Americans are more at risk because of it as “baloney.”

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