Qatar has agreed to temporarily extend travel bans on five high-level Taliban leaders released last year from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a senior American official said Sunday.
The official said the ban would remain in place until talks for a longer-term solution were completed. The restrictions had been set to expire Monday under terms of the May 2014 exchange for Bergdahl. U.S. officials said Friday that the Obama administration was closing in on an agreement to extend the restrictions for six months and that it could be announced over the weekend. It was unclear why that agreement had not been finalized.
The official said the U.S. remained in “close contact” with Qatari authorities “to make sure these individuals do not pose a threat to the United States.” As a result of the talks, Qatar “has agreed to maintain the current restrictive conditions on these individuals as we continue these discussions,” the official said.
The official said the former detainees were all in Qatar and remained subject to the travel ban and extensive monitoring. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
Under the terms of the exchange, the five detainees were sent to Qatar, where officials agreed to monitor their activities and prevent them from traveling out of the country for one year. In return, Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years after walking away from his Army post in Afghanistan, was released to the U.S. military. He recently was charged with desertion.
At least one of the five reportedly contacted militants while in Qatar. No details have been disclosed about that possible contact, but the White House confirmed that one was put under enhanced surveillance.
One or more of the detainees met with some members of the Al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani militant group in Qatar this year, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. That was an indication that the group was reaching out to the so-called Taliban Five, said Graham, who predicted all five would rejoin the fight in Afghanistan.
The State Department says that U.S. officials work to mitigate the risk of former Guantanamo detainees returning to the fight, threatening Americans or jeopardizing U.S. national security. U.S. officials have noted that the five Taliban leaders are middle-aged or older, were former officials in the Taliban government and probably wouldn’t be seen again on any battlefield, although they could continue to be active members of the Taliban.
Many lawmakers from both parties disapproved when the five detainees were swapped for Bergdahl. They complained that the White House did not give Congress a 30-day notification of the transfer, which is required by law. The White House said it couldn’t wait 30 days because Bergdahl’s life was endangered.