After nearly five years in Taliban custody, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released to U.S. Special Forces commandos in mere seconds, in a tense but smooth scene that unfolded in a rugged patch of eastern Afghanistan as shown in a video released by the Taliban early Wednesday.
The video is the first glimpse into the high-stakes handover of the sole U.S. POW in Afghanistan – a feat that’s drawn both praise and controversy for the Obama administration. A U.S. government statement said officials had seen the clip and “have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity.”
Bergdahl, dressed in white traditional Afghan garb, is filmed sitting in a silver pickup truck as 18 Taliban are fanned out in the area, holding guns and rocket launchers but also a white flag. Bergdahl, shown in close-up shots, blinks repeatedly, at one point appears to smile, and then wipes his eyes. The narration says the meeting took place at 4 p.m. in Khost Province.
An apparent surveillance aircraft _ a twin-engine plane _ flies over the meeting point first and then, seconds later, a Special Forces helicopter swoops down. Three U.S. troops and Taliban fighters, flanking Bergdahl, walk toward one another and exchange handshakes before the bewildered-looking soldier is released into U.S. custody.
The U.S. side quickly pats down Bergdahl, who is shown holding a plastic bag, before bundling him toward the helicopter. The Special Forces turn back and wave to the Taliban. Before he enters the aircraft, Bergdahl is given a more thorough body pat, presumably to make sure he isn’t armed or strapped with explosives.
Then he and the Special Forces disappear into the chopper, whose rotors whip up dirt and rocks as it flies away after a rare, face-to-face U.S.-Taliban encounter that lasted about 10 seconds.
A message appears at the end of the Taliban’s video, clear despite spelling and capitalization errors: “Don’ come back to afghanistan.”
Link to full Taliban video: