'Don’t return to Afghanistan again. Next time, nobody will release you,' one of the insurgents was heard telling Sgt Bergdahl in the 17-minute video released by the Taliban.
Video: Taliban release footage of US soldier handover
Click here to watch Taliban video of US soldier handover
KABUL // The Taliban released footage on Wednesday of the dramatic moments when gun-toting militants handed over American soldier Sgt Bowe Bergdahl to US forces after five years in captivity.
“Don’t return to Afghanistan again. Next time, nobody will release you,” one of the insurgents was heard telling Sgt Bergdahl in the 17-minute video.
It shows a US military helicopter landing in a valley, kicking up small clouds of dust as a jittery-looking Sgt Bergdahl waits just a few feet away flanked by militants clutching a white flag.
After a brief exchange of handshakes between insurgents and US soldiers, Sgt Bergdahl – wearing a white salwar kameez and a scarf over his shoulders – moved unsteadily towards the helicopter. The entire exchange lasted about one minute.
Sgt Bergdahl, the only US soldier held by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, was freed on Saturday in exchange for five senior Taliban militants detained at Guantanamo Bay in a deal brokered by Qatar.
His release has evoked sharp criticism from some US politicians, who fear the Islamists could return to the battlefield and pose a threat to Americans abroad.
The White House apologised for keeping lawmakers in the dark about the exchange of Sgt Bergdahl, senators said Tuesday.
Administration officials plan to hold a classified briefing for the full 100-member chamber on Wednesday, as lawmakers from both parties fumed over the trade.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party, said the White House breached US law when it failed to alert Congress to the prisoner exchange.
“It comes with some surprise and dismay that the transfers went ahead with no consultation, totally not following the law,” she said.
“We’re very dismayed.”
It has also provoked revulsion among Afghans in those parts of the country traditionally opposed to the Islamists.
The Taliban video, entitled “Ceremony of the American soldier exchange”, at one point also displays the words “Don’t Come Back to Afghanistan” superimposed over footage of Sgt Bergdahl.
A male voiceover in the video – laced with emotive religious music and chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) – claimed the exchange occurred in the eastern Afghan province of Khost.
“The Americans contacted us and asked us where was a good place to meet. We contacted tribal elders to come and join us, because we do not trust them [Americans],” the voiceover said.
“I congratulate all the mujahideen for this victory.”
In response to the video, the Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said: “We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity, but we are reviewing it.”
“Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt Bergdahl the care he needs,” Mr Kirby said in a statement.
Sgt Bergdahl is now being treated at a US military facility in Germany.
The US military’s top officer General Martin Dempsey said on Tuesday that Sgt Bergdahl may be disciplined if the army found him guilty of misconduct.
This follows claims from members of his unit that he had abandoned his post before his capture in 2009.
While the authenticity of the video emailed to media organisations by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid could not be independently verified, the video is characteristic of a well-oiled Taliban propaganda machine, observers say.
Once seen as uneducated thugs, the Taliban, ousted from power in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, have evolved into a media-savvy force adept at exploiting the power of mass communication.
“In addition to showing the scene of handover, the video presents a ‘victory’ narrative of the Taliban,” said Borhan Osman, an analyst at the Afghan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based think-tank.
“It frequently shows the scenes of the five leaders exchanged for Bowe while arriving in Qatar. The scenes of the men receiving a hero’s welcome... would stir up excitement and boost the morale of the fighters and supporters of the movement.”
US defence officials have previously said dozens of US special forces troops backed up by helicopters were sent for the handover.
“Fortunately, no shots were fired,” Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Sunday. “There was no violence. It went as well as we not only had expected and planned, but I think as well as it could have.”
* Agence France-Presse