Afghanistan Raises Objections to Swap of Taliban Prisoners for American

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Government Protests the Five Afghan Prisoners Weren’t Released Unconditionally.

Afghanistan raised objections over the swap of five high-profile Taliban detainees for a U.S. soldier, saying the Afghan prisoners should have been freed without conditions.

American officials said the five released from U.S. detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be required to remain in the Gulf emirate of Qatar, which brokered the deal, for at least a year to ensure they don’t return to Afghanistan and resume fighting.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, en route to Afghanistan on Sunday, said Washington kept Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the dark about the trade that freed Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Secretary of State John Kerry informed Mr. Karzai after the fact.

“This was an operation, I think as everyone recognizes, that had to be very closely held,” Mr. Hagel said. “Only very, very few people knew about this operation. We didn’t want to jeopardize any leaks.”

According to secret assessments of all five detainees by the Pentagon in 2008, the men were considered “high risk, as [they] may pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies.” Those assessments were made public by WikiLeaks.

The Afghan foreign ministry said the transfer of Afghan citizens from Guantanamo to Qatar contravened a previous agreement between governments. But it didn’t make clear which agreement was in question.

The two contenders for the Afghan presidential runoff election, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, haven’t commented on the prisoner swap.

The secrecy surrounding the deal raised new questions about the direction of peace talks, officials and analysts in Kabul say.

For years, Afghan and U.S. officials had tried to kick-start peace talks with the Taliban, and officials described the prisoner exchange as a crucial trust-building measure.

Shukria Barakzai, a prominent Afghan lawmaker, said the deal also denied the Afghan government a bargaining chip.

“The [Afghan] government could have used this tool to move forward peace talks, or used it as a condition for the Taliban to decrease attacks on civilians or public areas like restaurants and schools,” she said.

“This is a scary thing. When the [Afghan] authorities, officials and institutions are not in the picture about this exchange between the U.S. and Taliban, it is a big question mark in the public opinion: Why?”

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