Bringing Bowe Bergdahl Home (and the Challenge of Negotiating with the Taliban)

This past Friday, I spoke with Fox News Radio affiliates from around the country on the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner of war captured in 2009, who is believed to be held in Pakistan by insurgents with ties to the Taliban. It presents the U.S. government with a dilemma — on one hand, we believe the Taliban to be terrorists and deal with them accordingly, including a policy that declares that we don’t negotiate with terrorists. On the other hand, we’ve nearing the end of a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and it’s customary to exchange prisoners at the end of a war. The article I was asked about, from the Washington Post earlier this week, proposed that the United States might trade five Afghan Taliban prisoners currently held at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl.

Over the weekend, according to CNN, the Taliban suspended talks with an American contingent who want to secure Bergdahl’s return. Because the Taliban now have an “office” in Qatar, they’re able to meet with Americans outside of Afghanistan or Pakistan, which is a remarkable development in itself. And yet, to not show the “weakness” of being willing to negotiate with terrorists, American officials are reluctant to label these as ongoing talks.

While I agree with our policy that we don’t negotiate with terrorists, we also have the ability to work behind the scenes to get what we want in certain situations. As a retired Major General told CNN in their article about the ongoing talks, “We have a history of being able to dance pretty effectively along the edges of the declaration.” In this particular situation, Pakistan plays an extremely pivotal role, and while American-Pakistani relations are tense, helping both the U.S. and the Taliban get what they want in this situation benefits Pakistan. And while there is a danger in returning Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan from GITMO, the conflict in Afghanistan is entering the draw-down phase, and bringing Bergdahl home after five years in captivity is the right thing to do.

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