US lawmakers fear freed Taliban a threat despite Obama's deal with Qatar curbing their activities

Obama agreed security rules with emir but some US lawmakers fear ex-prisonersstill a danger

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 June, 2014, 11:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 June, 2014, 1:05am

The five Taliban leaders released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl are subject to strict bans on militant incitement or fundraising that might pose a danger to the US.

The Afghans are in Qatar under a one-year travel ban insisted upon by Washington despite a Taliban request that the men be allowed to make the haj, Muslims' annual pilgrimage to nearby Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration has kept the document detailing the terms of the men's conditions of release confidential, partly in deference to Qatar, which served as intermediary. But people familiar with the talks and a classified briefing said negotiators sought additional security assurances from Qatar and got them, and that President Barack Obama shook hands on the terms with the Qatari emir.

The five men are not under lockdown in Qatar, and their relative freedom of movement after more than a decade under complete US control has angered administration critics.

"It's possible someone will see them on the streets of Qatar," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "But those types of activities don't threaten our national security interests, and that's the standard here about substantially mitigating the threat that they will pose." Critics, basing their concerns partly on Qatar's past record with transferred Guantanamo detainees, fear the five will be not be subject to the kind of strict monitoring that can prevent them from having a role in the Taliban insurgency.

"There is no dispute in the intelligence community about how dangerous these Taliban detainees are," said Senator Susan Collins. "It is highly likely they will return to the fight against our country … which is why I share concerns expressed by many members of both parties about the administration's decision."

The five, all once part of the Taliban government that rose to power in Afghanistan and sheltered al-Qaida before the 9/11 attacks, were traded for Bergdahl, who was held by the Haqqani network, a branch of the Taliban, for nearly five years. He was the only US prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.

People familiar with the negotiations said the five were now considered "greybeards", or elders unlikely to assume top battlefield roles. But officials acknowledged some could take on other leadership roles within the Taliban.

The strict travel ban will keep them from returning to any active role fighting US forces for at least a year. By that time, all US combat forces will be gone from Afghanistan. A small force devoted to training and counterterrorism will remain.

The Washington Post