The Cable

Pentagon Intel Chief: Prisoners in Bergdahl Swap Could Return to Battle

The Defense Department's intelligence chief said there was a 20 percent chance one of the prisoners swapped for Bowe Bergdahl could return to the battle field.

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The White House has long insisted the five prisoners exchanged for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl would not return to the battlefield to fight the United States. The new director of the military’s Defense Intelligence Agency told lawmakers Tuesday there’s a one-in-five chance the administration could be wrong.

Speaking in front of the the House Armed Service Committee, Marine Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart said about 18 percent of prisoners released from the holding facility at Guantanamo Bay in the last five year have gone back to battle. Stewart, who took over the agency last month, said there it was difficult for DIA to prevent one of the Taliban detainees swapped for Bergdahl, currently in Qatar, from doing the same.

“If those numbers translate, of the five who were transferred, probably one in five could be expected to go back into the business,” Stewart said in response to a question specific to the five prisoners.

At a Tuesday afternoon briefing, Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said all five prisoners remained in Qatar and posed no threat.

Stewart’s acknowledgment of the risks of recidivism came after reports last week that one of the five prisoners reached out to the al-Qaeda linked Haqqani network, which has killed hundreds of American soldiers, primarily in eastern Afghanistan.  At a January 30 press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the incident shows U.S. and Qatari monitoring systems are working.

“The fact that our mitigation measures helped alert us to potential concerns about one of these individuals means that our mitigation measures are working and have allowed us to make appropriate adjustments in a timely manner to properly mitigate any potential threats,” Psaki said.

Speaking at an Atlantic event Monday night, meanwhile, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Mohammed al-Attiyah denied that any of the five men had linked with a militant group.

Bergdahl, who is believed to have wandered from his post in Afghanistan after becoming disillusioned with the war, was swapped for the five prisoners in May 2014. Under the terms of the agreement that freed him, the five are set to be released later this year.

The deal has proven controversial with Republican lawmakers, who allege the White House negotiated with terrorists to secure Bergdahl’s release, and many of the soldiers who served with Bergdahl claim that he willingly abandoned his post. The Pentagon has denied recent reports that it had come to a decision on whether to charge him with desertion, but many outside observers expect the department to soon make a final call on whether he will face charges for desertion or a lesser crime.

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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