The Taliban released a video Wednesday of them turning Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl over to U.S. Special Forces on Saturday in Afghanistan, a highly unusual turn of events that had Americans shaking hands with apparent insurgent fighters.
The Obama administration’s decision to exchange Bergdahl, the only present-day U.S. prisoner of war, for five Taliban operatives remains under major scrutiny. But the video itself provides a fascinating window into what occurred in the field, as some of the Pentagon’s most elite special operators descended in a Blackhawk helicopter into a clearing and met with the sergeant’s captors.
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One detail worth noting: One of the captors has bright, white sneakers on — “kicks” that are rare among poor Afghan villagers, but would be a warning flag for U.S. troops of the man’s possible affiliation with the Taliban. Enemy fighters in Afghanistan have long been known to favor sneakers in the field over sandals when possible, and were depicted doing so in a 2012 video the Taliban released after they launched a deadly attack on Camp Bastion, a major coalition base in Helmand province.
It also appears that several of the individuals who picked up Bergdahl were dressed in civilian attire, rather than military uniforms. I’d love to hear the back story on that.
UPDATED: June 4, 6:30 p.m.: Richard Engel of NBC News offered the following today on why the Taliban carried a white flag:
“… The Americans had initially requested that they shine a green light in the air. The Taliban went back and said, ‘Well, we don’t have a green light, how about a white flag?’ The Americans said fine, this is all according to a Taliban spokesman. And you can see in the video they are carrying a white flag on a stick.”
Like a flag marking a ceasefire, that action would indicate the Taliban’s willingness to collaborate with U.S. troops on the exchange. The additional context is certainly helpful, however.