- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A Taliban-produced video that juxtaposes the handover of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to U.S. Special Forces with images of five freed former Guantanamo inmates in Qatar went viral Wednesday across the Pakistani, Afghan and English-language media.

U.S. officials, who would only speak on background, said American intelligence analysts were closely monitoring the video’s spread, and a former senior Pentagon official acknowledged that the Taliban was exploiting it to push a message of victory — just as the Obama administration came under increased scrutiny over the secret nature and other details of the prisoner swap.

“The Taliban is playing this as a huge victory, releasing a YouTube video that’s now gone viral through Pakistan and Afghanistan, trumpeting this thing in an effort to show that they are serious and important players,” said David S. Sedney, who served as the Obama administration’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan and Central Asia until last year.

“They understand the value of it much better than we do,” he said. “They’ve gotten some big wins the last few days.”

The video drew so many visitors to a Web site where Taliban officials are believed to have initially posted it that the site reportedly crashed. Within hours, it was circulating across the world’s major media Web sites and had produced dozens of YouTube postings. While some versions ran roughly eight minutes and showed only the Bergdahl transfer into U.S. custody, an original 17-minute version emailed to news organizations around the world carried footage of the released Taliban prisoners hugging associates in Qatar.

Since the five former high-level Taliban commanders were traded for Sgt. Bergdahl last weekend, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has used the incident to advance the group’s stature in Afghanistan ahead of the planned pullout of American military forces.

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton defends ‘tough’ choice to swap Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for prisoners

Hours after news of the prisoner swap broke on Sunday, Mullah Omar circulated a rare statement calling it “great victory.”

Wednesday’s video showed a thin, tense-looking Sgt. Bergdahl in the passenger seat of a pickup wearing traditional, loose-fitting Afghan trousers and a long tunic.

Armed Taliban members stand nearby, one carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Sgt. Bergdahl’s eyes flicker toward the sky in the video, which shows a U.S. military Black Hawk helicopter overhead.

As the helicopter swoops in for a landing, one of the Taliban members leans toward Sgt. Bergdahl and can be heard saying: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan. You won’t make it out alive next time.”

Two Taliban members, one carrying a white flag of truce tied to a long, crooked stick, then lead the American captive, with a plastic bag in his hand, halfway toward the helicopter.

Three apparent members of U.S. Special Operations Forces approach the group, shake hands with the two Taliban fighters and take Sgt. Bergdahl toward the helicopter.

One of the three men pats down Sgt. Bergdahl a second time near the helicopter, while another takes the plastic bag from him and drops it on the ground. Then they all climb into the helicopter.

According to a voice-over on the video, the handover took place around 4 p.m. Saturday in the rugged Khost province, near the Pakistani border.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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