News

Dramatic Taliban video shows Bergdahl release

Dramatic Taliban video shows Bergdahl release

BOWE BERGDAHL: A Taliban militant speaks to U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (R) waiting in a pick-up truck before his release at the Afghan border, in this still image from video released June 4. Photo: YouTube/Al-Emara via Reuters TV

POW
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

By Jessica Donati and Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) – A dazed Bowe Bergdahl is led by two militants, one carrying a makeshift white flag on a stick, to a Blackhawk helicopter in eastern Afghanistan ending his five years’ in captivity, a video released by the Taliban showed on Wednesday.

In the first publicly aired footage of Bergdahl’s dramatic handover to the U.S. military at the weekend, the clip shows Taliban cadres dotted on nearby hills armed with rocket launchers watching the transfer.

The operation, from the moment the helicopter touched the ground amid a cloud of dust to take-off, was all over in a minute.

“Do not panic,” the militants shout as the Blackhawk lands in the barren valley deep in Khost province, close to the border with Pakistan.

Bergdahl, a U.S. army sergeant, was released on Saturday in exchange for five senior insurgent leaders, who had been held in a U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since it opened in 2002.

Before his rescue, Bergdahl is seen sitting in the rear seat of a 4-wheel-drive truck, blinking rapidly, apparently either dazed by the light or anxious about the events unfolding around him.

A plane and helicopters are seen circling overhead as fighters chant “long live our mujahideen” and “long live the spiritual leader”, referring to the Taliban’s reclusive Mullah Mohammad Omar.

As the Blackhawk lands, two of the militants approach the helicopter, one carrying a white cloth crudely tied to a stick and the other leading Bergdahl by the hand.

Three men walk from the American chopper. One is an interpreter, the Taliban’s reporter says in the clip.

TENSE 60 SECONDS

One of Bergdahl’s escorts has his faced covered by a checkered scarf and in the cloud of dust thrown up by the Blackhawk, the tension is clear. Soldiers dressed in military fatigue stand by the helicopter observing the handover.

One of the American team steps forward to shake their hands, keeping as wide a distance as possible as though worried the militants might blow themselves up.

He quickly offers his right hand to one, his left hand to the other and simultaneously grabs Bergdahl by the arm. In the same movement, he sweeps his hand across to Bergdahl’s back.

“We told them: if he is not in good health, please tell us. We tried to communicate with them through their interpreter, but they did not wait,” the Taliban reporter says in the clip.

As the first man leads the freed prisoner to the aircraft, the interpreter waves and the second man steps backwards, his eyes still trained on the Taliban.

A careful but rapid body search is performed before Bergdahl is helped aboard the Blackhawk. Then, they take position with their legs dangling and lift off.

The video starts playing a Taliban victory song and the message in English flashes up: “Don’ come back to Afghanistan”. Then, it cuts to the arrival of the five released leaders in Qatar after more than a decade spent in Guantanamo Bay, where they are received with warm embraces.

The video’s authenticity could not be independently verified. The Pentagon said it had no reason to doubt its authenticity, but was reviewing it.

“COME AGAIN, YOU WON’T LEAVE ALIVE”

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban after leaving his base in unclear circumstances and spent five years in captivity, learning Pashto and taking an interest in Islamic books, according to the Taliban.

The 28-year-old is now in a military hospital in Germany, undergoing physical and mental assessments.

Bergdahl appears clean-shaven, in a traditional, white salwar kameez as he squints at the Taliban militants outside leaning in to talk to him. His head is also shaved.

They tell him: next time you come back to Afghanistan, you will not leave alive.

Eighteen fighters, the Taliban’s reporter explains, dot the hills around the valley as agreed with the Americans, including some armed with rocket-launchers.

The initial euphoria over Bergdahl’s release has been clouded by claims by fellow soldiers who say the U.S. sergeant deserted his post in 2009 and too many lives were lost in the manhunt that followed.

Some members of Congress also say the president broke the law by not giving them advance notice of the swap.

(Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Recent Headlines

21 mins ago in Entertainment, Sports

Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ to get Disney treatment

Fresh
KOBE472419167185

Kobe Bryant's farewell poem to basketball is going to be turned into a short film.

1 hour ago in National, Olympics, Sports

Rio mayor assures Olympics not impacted by graft, political turmoil

Fresh
olympicsmayorREUTERS

Rio de Janeiro's mayor said Thursday preparations for the Olympics will not be impacted by Brazil's political turbulence, and he guaranteed there was zero corruption in the city's projects for the games.

2 hours ago in National

U.S. cracks down on e-cigarettes and cigars, bans sales to minors

Fresh
vapingREUTERS

The U.S. government took wide-ranging steps to crack down for the first time on e-cigarettes and cigars, growing in popularity among teens, and banned sales to anyone under age 18 in hopes of sparing a new generation from nicotine addiction.

2 hours ago in National

Senators urge regulators to ID vehicles with possible faulty Takata air bags

Fresh
takata

Two U.S. Senators urged auto safety regulators to publicly name the makes and models of tens of millions of vehicles with potentially faulty Takata air bag inflators, according to a letter made public late on Thursday.

2 hours ago in Sports

For Derby hopefuls, owning horse like owning team

Fresh
derbyREUTERS

For many racehorse owners, it's the experience, more so than making money, that attracted them to the Sport of Kings but they face a tough task to get into the elite field for events like the Kentucky Derby.