Taliban video shows Bowe Bergdahl’s release in Afghanistan
By Holly Yan and Masoud Popalzai, KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — Dressed in all white with a striped shawl across his shoulders, the gaunt-looking American looks up at the Black Hawk chopper circling overhead.
Armed Taliban men stand around him, one with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher ready.
When the chopper lands, the American is led there by two men, one carrying a white flag. He is given a pat-down, loaded on to the helicopter and whisked away.
A new video released by the Taliban showed the final moments of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s five years in captivity, just before he was handed over to the United States.
The narration on the video says the transfer took place in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan.
“We had a number of tribal elders with us … in order to build trust between us and the other side,” a voice in the video says.
“We told them that we had warned all our Mujahideen fighters in Khost province and especially in Batai area not to attack them.”
The 17-minute video also showed an unusual sight: Taliban members shaking hands with men from the Black Hawk chopper.The Pentagon said early Wednesday it has no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity.
“But we are reviewing it,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
“Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs.”
On Wednesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said the Taliban likely had a strategy behind the video’s release.
“I’m sure that the Taliban published it for propaganda purposes to help their cause,” he said.
Surrounded by Mujahideen
At one point in the video, Taliban members start chanting, “Long live Mujahideen of Afghanistan, long live Mullah Omar, the leader of Taliban.”
Mujahideen refer to those who carry out jihad.
The narrator’s voice said armed fighters were stationed throughout the transfer area.
“We waited in the area for around 10 minutes before the helicopters arrived, and there were 18 Mujahideen fighters with me in the area,” the narrator said.
Indeed, the video showed armed men perched high and low on nearby hillsides.
“Our arrangement was that once the helicopters are on the ground, three people from the other side would get off the helicopter and three from our side, including the captive, would move toward the helicopter to hand him over.”
The video has few words in English, other than this message superimposed over Bergdahl:
“Don’come back to afghanistan”
Bergdahl was handed over to the United States in exchange for the release of five prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the deal, including the fact that the Obama administration failed to notify Congress 30 days in advance, as required by law.
The Obama administration justified the operation, citing Bergdahl’s health and safety, which appeared to be in jeopardy.
“The United States has always had a pretty sacred rule — and that is, we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind,” President Barack Obama said Tuesday.
Bergdahl will remain at a U.S. Army medical center in Germany until he completes treatment, a U.S. defense official there told CNN. After that, Bergdahl will return to the United States and go to a San Antonio military base, the official said.
While some hail Bergdahl as a hero, some fellow soldiers said he was a deserter.
At least six soldiers were killed searching for Bergdahl, according to soldiers involved in the operations to find him.
Asked about this point, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Wednesday that he did not know of specific circumstances or details of soldiers dying as a result of the efforts to find Bergdahl.
It is “unfair” to Bergdahl and his family to presume anything about his motivations for leaving the base, Hagel said. He reiterated that the Army will conduct a review of the case.
As the chorus of criticism from some in Bergdahl’s platoon grows louder, residents in his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, say their support of the soldier hasn’t been shaken.
“We’re leaving the politics to everybody else. We’re just glad to welcome Bowe back to us,” family friend Stefanie O’Neill said. “We’re going to let things play out when Bowe is able to tell his story.”
CNN’s Masoud Popalzai reported from Kabul; Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Phil O’Sullivan, Christine Theodorou, Jim Acosta, Jake Tapper, Elise Labott and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.