US in discussion with Qatar over status of five Taliban figures

Friday 29/05/2015
Expiry of travel ban raises questions about what happens next

WASHINGTON - The United States is in discussions with Qatar on the status of five Taliban figures who may be free to return to Afghanistan a year after their release in a US prisoner swap, the head of the CIA said Sunday.

"I want to make sure that they're not going to be allowed to return to the fight," Central Intelligence Agency director John Brennan said on CBS talk show "Face the Nation."

The five senior Taliban figures were exchanged for Sergeant Bowie Bergdahl on May 31, 2014, and transferred from the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the custody of Qatar.

A year-long travel ban on the five is due to expire, raising questions about what happens next.

"Presumably, they will go back to the battlefield but they will not change the dynamics, and they will not change the balance. They are five guys," retired general Stanley McChrystal, a former US commander in Afghanistan, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Brennan said he was personally engaged in the discussions with Afghan and Qatari officials about the five.

They are "looking (at) what are the arrangements that can be put in place, what is going to be the disposition of these individuals, whether they will be sent back to Afghanistan or stay in Doha," he said.

"This is continuing, part of the ongoing process of discussing with our Qatari partners what is in the best interest of national security," he added.

The five include a former Taliban army chief of staff, a former deputy intelligence minister, and a former interior minister, as well as two other senior Taliban members.

Their swap for Bergdahl was sharply criticized by Republicans at the time as a troubling departure from longstanding US policy of not negotiation with hostage-takers. The White House defended it on grounds Bergdahl was a prisoner of war and the US was following the principle of not leaving US military personnel behind.

Bergdahl, who was taken prisoner in June 2009 after going missing from his unit, was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.

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