FIVE FOR ONE: The Taliban Prisoner Trade Issue

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June 9, 2014

Americans and the media have been buzzing this past week about the latest issue in Obama’s attempt to manage America’s foreign policy and end the war in Afghanistan while not completely ruining his political career in the process. Here’s what happened: 

US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, was held prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan for 5 years. President Obama, without alerting Congress, made a prisoner exchange deal that returned five top Taliban guys who had been held in Guantanamo for the last dozen years or so for Bergdahl. The Taliban-Five were transferred to Doha, Qatar where their movements will be restricted for a year. There are lots of opinions on both sides of this issue ranging from “We must do anything possible to never leave an American behind,” to “The President broke the law by not informing Congress of the prisoner swap.” So…

Here are 7 things you need to know about the situation:

1.  Bergdahl was a deserter. That is pretty much without question based on reports from those who were with him and served with him. Did he collaborate with the enemy? We don’t know yet.

2.  It’s not a good trade. These Taliban guys were turned over to Qatar – and are supposed to be restricted for a year. Even so, we need to remember, these guys are not just soldiers that were captured during a war – they are criminals of war, guilty of crimes against humanity. They might be in their 40’s now, but I doubt their ideals have changed. They will go back to Afghanistan and to the “cause.”

3.  The Taliban is not the legitimate government of Afghanistan – so why are we negotiating with them? The Taliban is not a “government in exile.” Afghanistan has a president and a government (a corrupt one, to be sure). The Afghans recently had a presidential election. When the final run-off is complete, they will have experienced the first peaceful transfer (elected) president in their history.

4.  Qatar (where the former Taliban prisoners were sent) seems to be becoming a haven for the dangerous.  According to the National Post, “Moussa Koussa, the ex-spy chief of former Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi; Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ political Bureau; and influential Muslim cleric Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradawi are just some of the characters who can be found sipping tea in the Four Seasons hotel in Doha.” (National Post)

5.  Jihadist membership and activity is increasing. According to the Rand Institute’s National Defense Research Institute, since 2010, the number of Jihadist groups across North Africa and the Middle East has increased 58%. Radicalism is growing. It has become decentralize and more effective. (Jihadist Group Study)

6.  America may choose to leave Afghanistan in 2016 – but the Taliban will not give up – nor will they change. The US has spent $50 billion on preparing Afghan security forces – but according to military experts, those forces aren’t even close to being ready yet. The Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “the training program has been “rushed forward” to meet an artificially-imposed deadline, and that the Afghans may not be ready to stand on their own before 2018.” (Foreign Policy)

7. It’s not just US citizens that are upset about this trade. Many Afghans are also angry. This latest move by the US president sends a message – and that message is that the US is ready to completely disengage from what we’ve spent more than a decade trying to build in Afghanistan.

Nation building is hard – and as they say, “generational” – meaning that most of us won’t see lasting change in our lifetimes. And maybe we haven’t seen the kind of success that we wanted in creating a desirable national infrastructure in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. I certainly don’t have the answers for all of this. But one thing I do know- the answer isn’t in releasing murderers back into action. (Read more about who these five released Taliban are and what they’ve done.)

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