ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Afghanistan’s government reacted in anger at President Barack Obama’s decision to release five Taliban detainees from U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay into Qatar’s jurisdiction, in exchange for an American soldier who had been held by the Taliban for five years.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said the U.S. decision was a potential breach of international law.
Reuters quoted a source close to Afghan President Hamid Karzai who said Karzai is “even more distrustful” of U.S. intentions in the country.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Shakeb Mustaghni said Monday the government had handed over an official note to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, questioning the conditions of the prisoners’ release.
Mustaghni said contrary to previous understanding, these five citizens of the Afghanistan Islamic Republic were handed over to Qatar. He added that if they do not have complete freedom of movement, or if their freedoms are denied in any way, or if they are held under detention, then this would be of strong concern to Afghanistan and grounds for protest.
The prisoner swap secured the release of the only U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl was flown out of Afghanistan to a U.S. base in Germany after spending five years as a prisoner of the Taliban.
The detained Taliban commanders were flown to Qatar. The emirate has worked as a middleman in previous negotiation attempts between the United States, the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Under the terms of the deal, the former Guantanamo prisoners are to remain in Qatar for at least one year. They include the Taliban’s former deputy defense minister, and other senior leaders during the extremist group’s rule.
One of the five was linked to former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and another was believed to have been behind mass sectarian killings in 2001-2002.
Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in a rare public statement since he went into hiding in 2001, claimed the prisoners’ release was a “big victory.”
Bergdahl’s release, which U.S. Defense Secretary Charles Hagel said took place because the sergeant’s health was deteriorating, comes seven months before the end of international combat operations in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl disappeared from his base in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, under murky circumstances. It was unclear whether he defied orders and was absent without leave, or was kidnapped.
Five years later, the Taliban finally handed him over to U.S. Special Forces in the eastern region of Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, on Sunday, June 1.