Taliban members head to Qatar after nation brokers prisoner swap deal
Five Taliban members detained at the American prison Guantanamo Bay are being remanded into the custody of Qatar following the negotiated release of a US soldier held captive in Afghanistan.
The idea of sending the five prisoners to live here has been discussed for more than two years.
In 2012, Reuters reported that the Taliban members were among the most dangerous of the renaming prisoners in Cuba, but stated that their transfer was considered a “necessary evil” to get Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home.
The 28-year-old soldier had been held prisoner for nearly five years, and was the only American POW there. Following his release today, the New York Times reports him as being in good condition and able to walk.
The newspaper added that Qatar officials would accompany the Taliban members back to Doha, “where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.”
In a statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Qatar, home to the largest US air base in the Middle East, for brokering the prisoner exchange:
“I extend my personal gratitude to the Government of Qatar – and especially to the Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – who played such an instrumental role in returning Sergeant Bergdahl home.
We work every day with Qatar on a range of critical foreign policy priorities. This effort – one that was personally so close to our hearts here – exemplifies how vital our partnership with Qatar is and will remain.”
Other Taliban members have already been living in Qatar for years. Last summer, the group actually opened a political office in Dafna, which was reportedly supposed to help negotiations between the Taliban, the Afghan government and the US.
But the headquarters closed less than a week later after drawing the fire of President Hamad Karzai in Kabul. He took offense to the raising of a flag and installation of a placard that named the building the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” – the former name of the country when it was under Taliban rule.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, a US official said the country hopes the prisoner transfer will help with future negotiations:
“This transfer is part of a larger reconciliation framework,” said the senior defense official. “We have always maintained that reconciliation was the ultimate goal here.”
The five Taliban officials will not be the first Guantanamo prisoners to move to Doha.
Sami Al Hajj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who was detained shortly after the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, was cleared and released in 2008. He later received a hero’s welcome in Doha and is now head of Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk.