Top American officials have defended a prisoner swap deal with Taliban militants in Afghanistan, describing it as a new opening to the terrorist group fighting the Afghan government and the same group that Washington claimed it invaded the country to root out.
The prisoner exchange deal has led to the release of US soldier Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban and the transfer of five Taliban fighters held at the notorious American military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the Persian Gulf Arab state of Qatar instead of Afghanistan.
This is while US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed optimism on Sunday that the prisoner-swap deal would lead to a new breakthrough with Taliban militants, who are widely engaged in terror campaigns against government authorities as well as civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Taliban-affiliated groups have also been involved in numerous mass-killings of Shia Muslims in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan.
Hagel defended the nature of the deal during a pre-scheduled trip to Bagram Air Field.
“We have strongly supported an Afghan-led effort to come to an agreement with the Taliban; as you know we had engaged with the Taliban up until 2012; they broke off those negotiations, we have had no formal relationship since then, so… this would be a new opening that can produce an agreement,” said the US military chief.
The Afghan government, however, has insisted that it has never been informed by Washington about its negotiations with the Taliban while criticizing the Obama administration for transferring the freed Taliban prisoners to Qatar.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry described the transfer of former Taliban detainees to a third country as against the international law.
US National Security Advisor Susan Rice also justified Washington’s deal with Taliban terrorist group saying, “We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our Republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance.”
“Regardless of who may be holding an American prisoner of war, we must do our best to bring him or her back,” she added.
Rice made the remarks as critics both at home and abroad have taken a swipe at the White House over the controversial deal with the militant group.
“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Berghdal’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans,” said Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and California Congressman Buck McKeon, the Senate Armed Services ranking member and House Armed Services chairman, respectively, in a joint statement.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz also blasted the White House for the deal.
“I do not think the way to deal with terrorists is by releasing other violent terrorists,” he said during a televised interview on Sunday.