June 3, 2014
In a Rose Garden ceremony usually reserved for heads-of-state related affairs, President Obama announced the release of five of the most dangerous Taliban/al-Qaeda prisoners in Gitmo in exchange for an American soldier who deserted or defected to the enemy.
But maybe the Rose Garden WAS the proper setting as Mr. Bergdahl, father of the soldier, spoke in Pashto directly to the Afghans and his son’s captors, with whom he has developed a relationship over the five years of captivity.
President Obama stated from the Rose Garden ceremony “I’m also grateful for the tireless work of our diplomats, and for the cooperation of the government of Qatar in helping to secure Bowe’s release. We’ve worked for several years to achieve this goal, and earlier this week I was able to personally thank the Emir of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done (The Emir was present for Obama’s foreign policy speech to West Point graduates). As part of this effort, the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar. The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security. I also want to express gratitude to the Afghan government, which has always supported our efforts to secure Bowe’s release. Going forward, the United States will continue to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation, which could help secure a hard-earned peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan.”
The significance of the event could have been lost in shock and awe at the President’s audacity, but Secretary of State Kerry intimated that this deal would help the Afghan people forge a new relationship with the Taliban and assist Afghanistan with the “conversations between Afghans about how to end the bloodshed in their country through an Afghan-led reconciliation process. As we’ve said, we look forward to working with the next President of Afghanistan and to standing side-by-side with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people as they build a secure, stable, sovereign, and unified country.”
The statements from the President and Mr. Kerry resemble a December 2011 dialogue where the U.S. and Qatar sought to open a negotiation with the Taliban as a means of ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan without returning the country to a resumption of war between the Karzai government and the Taliban.
However, Karzai killed the deal and refused to meet with the Taliban. The fact that the Rose Garden setting was used as a means of communicating with the Taliban directly telegraphs to the Taliban that the U.S. is prepared to move forward with peace talks regardless of the position of Karzai or the incoming president of Afghanistan.
It’s a monumental step for the U.S. to undertake a unilateral position against Karzai, who has become increasingly belligerent towards the American government and President Obama (Last week the President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan where Karzai refused to meet him). As far as America’s role with Afghanistan, Secretary Kerry said he personally spoke with Afghan President Karzai to brief him on the release of the “Taliban five.” He told the out-going president that America has Qatar’s word they will not return to the battlefield and resume the battle against the West.
Conversely, testimonies given before Congress on February 16, 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the “Taliban five” were too dangerous to release or swap. Yet, President Obama would have American’s believe two years later, that the Emir of Qatar gave his personal assurances that the “Taliban five” would not pose a threat to America.
Clearly, that line of thinking doesn’t line up with the Taliban’s point of view. A few hours after the GITMO detainees were released, the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar made a rare statement in Arabic and Pashto.
“With great happiness and joy we give glad tidings to all people, and especially the mujahedeen of the Islamic Emirate, and the families of the five senior leaders of the Islamic Emirate, and those who love them and their families. The five ex-Guantanamo detainees were liberated as a result of non-straightforward negotiations between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and America with mediation from Qatar, and those people will reside in Qatar with their families.
It is worth mentioning that the Islamic Emirate, in exchange for the release of its five prominent people…released one America soldier that it had captured five years ago and handed him over to America,” the Taliban says, according to SITE’s translation.
The Taliban said a new “political office” was opened in Qatar in 2012. They went on to demand that the U.S. release all the Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Taliban finishes its statement by claiming they will push the U.S. to “quickly release the [other] imprisoned mujahedeen, and wants all international human rights organizations to join in their efforts with the Islamic Emirate and the Afghan people to grant all the prisoners their legal and humanitarian rights, and the freedom to live their lives as they wish.”
Speaking to the media from Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the DoD has been working on Army Sgt Bergdahl’s release for years. “This didn’t just start, it has been an ongoing effort that our government has been involved in at every level.” He further explained, “We found some openings that I don’t want to [publicly discuss] that made sense to us. We had the Emir of Qatar, who was willing to take the lead on this, and his representatives in Qatar. The timing was right. The pieces came together. Our consistent efforts … over the years paid off.”
Stay tuned, but expect Qatar to announce direct U.S. and Taliban talks shortly as the war winds down and troops are withdrawn.
On the other hand, Qatar, for all of its machinations as the errand-boy for Saudi Arabia, Qatar has obtained five experienced jihadists to reverse the fortunes of the U.S., Saudi, and Qatar supported insurrection in Syria. Despite the gun trafficking, the thousands of jihadists, and initial gains against Syria’s government of Bashir al-Assad, the insurrection is in trouble as Assad has gained the upper-hand and even announced the thousands of jihadists from 50 nations would be defeated.
The irony of Qatar taking the laboring oar in initiating the U.S. – Taliban dialogue is that Qatar is a solid supporter of al-Qaeda despite the fact the U.S. Central Command operates from Doha. In fact, after the ouster of Mohamed Mursi, Egypt returned $2.5B of Qatari aid because of Qatar’s strong linkages to al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Secretary of State John Kerry had this to say about the negotiation skills of the Qatari’s on behalf of the Taliban. “I extend my personal gratitude to the Government of Qatar – and especially to the Amir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – who played such an instrumental role in returning Sergeant Bergdahl home. We work every day with Qatar on a range of critical foreign policy priorities. This effort – one that was personally so close to our hearts here – exemplifies how vital our partnership with Qatar is and will remain.
Others have not been so enamored with Qatar. Commenting on an April 2014 State Department report on counterterrorism, Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a fellow in Gulf politics at The Washington Institute, warned that hundreds of millions of dollars were being raised in Qatar for the Taliban and al- Qaeda to fight the Assad regime in Syria. “On April 30, the U.S. State Department noted that private donations from Persian Gulf countries were ‘a major source of funding for Sunni terrorist groups, particularly…in Syria,’ calling the problem one of the most important counterterrorism issues during the previous calendar year. Groups such as al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), previously known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, are believed to be frequent recipients of some of the hundreds of millions of dollars that wealthy citizens and others in the Gulf peninsula have been donating during the Syrian conflict.”
The State Department’s latest Country Reports on Terrorism describes Doha’s monitoring of fundraising “inconsistent,” and “lacking” and said the fundraising was increasing, not decreasing. (Read the full DoS report here: http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2013/index.htm)
Qatar, the dagger-shaped Persian Gulf nation, has seen a spectacular rise under Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Once content to “go along” with the Arab league, Qatar has emerged as the power broker, moneymen dealing with the Syrian rebels. The Emir has boldly stoked the Syrian civil war fires and proudly displays a new Syrian Embassy—not of embattled President Bashir al-Assad, but the Syrian Free Rebels.
There is little doubt that the small gulf nation has stepped onto the world stage, exploiting its wealth to shape policy in the volatile Persian Gulf region. “In the shell-blasted areas of rebel-held Syria, few appear to be aware of the vast sums that Qatar has contributed – estimated by rebel and diplomatic sources to be about $1bn, but put by people close to the Qatar government at as much as $3bn. However, a perception is taking root among growing numbers of Syrians that Qatar is using its financial muscle to develop networks of loyalty among rebels and set the stage for influence in a post-Assad era. ‘Qatar has a lot of money and buys everything with money, and it can put its fingerprints on it,’” says a rebel officer interviewed by the Financial Times.
Many question why such a small, inexperienced Middle Eastern player like Qatar would risk involvement in Syria’s bloody civil war, but the answer lies in oil-rich, U.S. allied Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud seeks the collapse of Syria so it can further consolidate its power over the next Islamic Caliphate including the Iranian Shia.
The small wealthy nation has also backed most of the northern African “Arab Springs” in which the Islamists have made considerable gains. The growing influence of the Arab country doesn’t appear to differentiate between religious sects; it seeks what any other world dictator wants- power.
Qatar’s linkages to support of al-Qaeda are well known. Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Seymour Hersh, who earned his accolade uncovering the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, broke explosive new details on the 9-11 terrorist attacks in Benghazi that claimed the life of the US Ambassador and three other Americans.
In his story: “The red line and the rat line,” Hersh says the Obama administration reached a special agreement with the Turkish government that allowed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to skirt a presidential finding to move illicit weapons from Benghazi. He said by classifying the “special” partnership as a “liaison operation” the Obama regime essentially bought and sent weapons to al-Qaeda in Syria.
According to the terms of the secret agreement, Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar funded the action while the CIA liaised with Britain’s MI-6 Intelligence Service. Hersh contends the “liaison operation” allowed the U.S. intelligence agency to avoid a 1970 law requiring a Presidential “finding” that would require approval from senior Congressional leaders and their respective intelligence committees. A former intelligence official familiar with the report explained the “liaison exception” permits the CIA to operate without notifying Congress. Former Army Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Anthony Shaffer, author of Operation Dark Heart and DIA agent confirms that intelligence agencies use this loophole all the time.
The classified Benghazi annex report also said the CIA was responsible for collecting illicit weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenals and transporting them into Syria. The report further stated that front companies, employing retired U.S. soldiers procured and shipped the heavy weapons to Syria via Turkey.
However, the CIA has long disputed this charge and this week they again dismissed any claims of weapons trafficking in Benghazi:
“No US officials in Benghazi were involved in transferring Libyan arms to the rebels in Syria—or to any other conflict zone—before or after the Benghazi attacks,” a senior US intelligence official told this reporter for San Diego 6 News. The paradox with this assertion is DCI John Brennan’s letter to the House Intelligence Committee where he acknowledges CIA “staff and contractors” participated in activities related to the Benghazi attack. (Brennan’s letter to the Committee).
Hersh added, “A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities and retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping.”
According to a June 2012 New York Times story, “A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said. “C.I.A. officers are there and they are trying to make new sources and recruit people,” said one Arab intelligence official that was briefed regularly by American counterparts. (Read full story here)
So who is this soldier at the center of all of this diplomatic wrangling?
Back on the Sunday morning talk shows, Susan Rice of Benghazi “talking points” fame was let loose to defend the administration again on ABC News “This Week” with host George Stephanopoulos. He asked National Security Adviser Rice if deserter allegations were being pursued?
Stephanopoulos pressed, “If it is found that he did, will he be disciplined or has he already paid the price?”
Rice responded with; “Certainly, anybody who has been held in those conditions in captivity for five years has paid an extraordinary price, but that is really not the point. The point is he’s back. He’s going to be safely reunited with his family. He served the United States with honor and distinction.”
But another impression emerges from a story written by Michael Hastings for Rolling Stone magazine shortly before his death in a still unresolved car accident in Hollywood, CA. In his piece, Hastings quoted emails Bergdahl sent to his parents. The emails imply he was extremely disillusioned with the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan and was contemplating desertion. (Story link)
One of Bergdahl’s emails illustrates he was “ashamed to even be American.” Another email read, “The future is too good to waste on lies. And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong.”
According to the Telegraph, “Sgt Bergdahl took an unusual route into the U.S. military, studying ballet and joining a sailing expedition from the Atlantic to the Pacific before attempting to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. Only after being rejected by France did he join the U.S. Army.”
A concerned Bergdahl further pontificated on Afghan’s dire war situation in a June 27, 2009 email to his parents. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.” Three days later, according to Rolling Stone, the 23-year-old soldier left his outpost in the eastern Patika province. The sergeant neatly left behind his weapon, military armor and was last reported to only have a knife, diary and a small camera.
Shortly after he went missing in 2009-10 the military started a 15-6 (investigation) proceeding looking into Bergdahl’s disappearance and according to U.S. Major General Bob Scales (ret), immediately classified and sealed the file until 2019. Once Bergdahl returns to the U.S. Army Chief of Staff Ray Ordierno, who has been conspicuously quiet, will handle his legal situation.
An excellent backstory on Bergdahl’s alleged desertion from one of his platoon members can be found in The Daily Beast: (Link here).
Reporters also pressed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the possibility of an Article 32 hearing for Bergdahl that carries a court marshal penalty including jail time, for his unexplained disappearance in June of 2009. Hagel declined to discuss the issue and said the military was concerned about the sergeant’s health first and foremost.
If charged and convicted of desertion, Sgt. Bergdahl would be subject to at least five years in the brig.
In a weird series of events, the Obama Administration reported the release of 36,000 illegal aliens who had been convicted of serious crimes including murder and rape into American communities as some sort of support for amnesty.
Meanwhile for the past two months, decorated Afghan War combat veteran Marine Sgt Andrew Tahmooressi rots in a Mexican prison under charges for a wrong turn he took in a construction zone that landed him in Mexico. Despite hundreds of thousands of signatures by Americans, President Obama has not called on Mexico’s President Nieto to release the Marine who was recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows.
Read more of Kimberly Dvorak’s investigative reporting in Benghazi intrigue- CIA arms trafficking – influence peddling or corruption:
Obama’s regime change train stops in Ukraine: http://www.examiner.com/article/obama-s-regime-change-train-stops-ukraine
Email Kimberly: Kimberly.firstname.lastname@example.org
© Kimberly Dvorak. All rights reserved. 2014.