A travel ban is about to be lifted for five senior Taliban leaders that were released last year from a U.S. detention in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Starting Monday, the five leaders are free to travel around the world.
During the exchange in May 2014, the five men were transferred to Qatar, where officials agreed to oversee their activities and make sure they did not travel out of the country. Sgt. Bergdahl was released back to the U.S. military after being held prisoner by the Taliban for five years.
There has been discussion of extending the travel ban but the White House has not made a public announcement of a new arrangement.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee said “In Congress, we spent a lot of time debating whether the Qataris were going to adequately keep an eye on them in the course of the 12 months. My point all along was that I’m more worried about month No. 13 than the first 12.”
According to Fox News, one of the five Taliban leaders contacted militants during the year of their travel ban. The White House did not disclose any details but ensured that the individual was put under increased surveillance.
“I know that at least one has had communication with the Taliban,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Four of the Taliban leaders remain on the United Nations’ blacklist. The U.N. has admitted that the travel ban has been violated.
Late last year, the U.N. sanctions committee stated in a report: “Regrettably, the monitoring team continues to receive a steady — albeit officially unconfirmed — flow of media reports indicating that some listed individuals have become increasingly adept at circumventing the sanctions measures, the travel ban in particular.”
After expressing deep concern about what will happen after the travel ban is up, Congress has asked the Obama administration to urge the Qatar to prolong monitoring.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif, said “It’s impossible for me to see how they don’t rejoin the fight in short order.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H, wrote Defense Secretary Ash Carter, requesting him to make sure the individuals do not return to the battleground in Afghanistan.
“If, as scheduled, Qatar permits these five former detainees to possess passports and travel to Afghanistan or Pakistan when the memorandum of understanding expires on June 1, they will be at liberty to play an even more direct role in attacks against the men and women of our military,” they wrote.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers were enraged when the five Guantanamo prisoners were traded for Bergdahl. They accused the White House of disregarding a law requiring them to give congress a 30-day notice of the transfer, but the White House said Bergdahls life was on the line, and 30 days was too long.
Following the transfer, the House Armed Services Committee required the Pentagon to release internal documents about the exchange. The committee received documents that lawmakers accused of being adjusted. The committee threatened to decrease Pentagon spending by $500 million if the Defense Department doesn’t provide further information about the swap.
A spokesman for the Defense Department, Army Lt. Col. Joe Sowers, stated that the Pentagon has given the committee more than 3,600 pages of documents that have had minimal changes.