POLITICS

Afghan Presidential Candidate Has Concerns About Bowe Bergdahl Swap

06/12/2014 06:08 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2014
SHAH MARAI via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- One of the men vying to become Afghanistan's next president said Thursday he was worried that the five Taliban detainees swapped for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would return to the battlefield.

"Our main concern is about those who have been released, that they will not join the battlefield -- because those are criminals which had committed crimes, [in] a massive way, against the Afghan people," said Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, one of two candidates in a Saturday runoff for Afghanistan's presidency.

He made the remarks during a Skype interview at a Washington event held by the Atlantic Council and the Center for American Progress.

Abdullah's views are reportedly shared by his country's current administration. Sources within the Afghan intelligence agency told Reuters they believed that the released Guantanamo Bay prisoners would return to to terrorist activities. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is said to be furious about the exchange, which he believes has undermined negotiations with the Taliban.

Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after disappearing from his post. In a deal brokered in part by the government of Qatar, he was traded late last month for five Taliban officials who had been held at Guantanamo. The freed prisoners have traveled to Qatar, where they have been reunited with their families.

Abdullah also said that he had no inside knowledge of the swap.

As criticism of the deal mounted last week, President Barack Obama acknowledged the possibility that the five former terrorists could return to the Taliban's fight.

"Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely," Obama said in Warsaw, Poland, adding that the same was true of any terrorist released from the Guantanamo facility. The rate at which freed Guantanamo prisoners re-engage in terrorism has fallen sharply in the period since January 2009, according to a report from the Director of National Intelligence.

One former secretary of state argued that the risk posed by the prisoner swap is minimal. "These five guys are not a threat to the United States," Hillary Clinton said.

Abdullah is a former minister of foreign affairs who is making his second run for the presidency. He led in the first round of voting, which took place in April. The second round will occur this Saturday. Last week, his convoy was the target of a suicide bomb attack that left him uninjured but killed six others. If Abdullah is elected, he will become the country's third president since the U.S. invasion in 2001. His opponent is Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister.

The Bergdahl trade -- which became politicized in the United States very quickly -- has been a non-factor in the Afghan elections, ThinkProgress' Hayes Brown reported.

At Thursday's event, Abdullah also answered questions about many of the issues hanging over the election, including the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. troops and the role that Karzai will play in Afghanistan's governance after the election.

Asked about the U.S. drawdown, Abdullah largely declined to comment but did allude to his desire to continue the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

"I'm not in a position to judge it at this stage," he said. "But one thing that I would emphasize [is] that hopefully, zero option will not mean zero cooperation."

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