I was a tactical operations center chief when Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his firebase. The entire room held its breath as we read the message, an American soldier was missing. Phones were abuzz and video conferences under way as preparation for contingency operations to support the search were already underway. There would be no limit in the effort to determine the best way to support the search for the missing American.
It seemed like nearly everything came to an abrupt halt. If he was a lost American soldier, we needed to find him. Almost every available asset was diverted in an effort to find Bergdahl, to include the vast plethora of strategic assets, national ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aircraft, Tier One SOF units and massive operations by the regular Army were shifted from the war fighting effort to assist in the search. We went thru all the available information to see how we could assist in the search. Even though he was missing in the East, we would do what we could from the South to help. It was not twenty four hours later that the circumstances surrounding his disappearance would be reported. It left everyone in the room shaking their head.
Now that he is safe, I am relieved and happy for him and his family. I can’t imagine being held by anyone, much less the Taliban, for five years. The only person I am aware of who can sympathize with this experience is Sen. John McCain. But, amid this short term happiness in securing Bergdahl’s freedom is the long term apprehension as a result. The Obama administration has opened Pandora’s Box by doing what we have sworn never to do, negotiate with terrorists. By making a unilateral decision to negotiate with terrorists, Obama has broken national policy and agreed to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders previously held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
What is the ultimate cost of making this unilateral decision to obtain Bergdahl’s release? It does not matter what side of the isle you fall on politically, this question is being asked amongst the inner circles. This is in no way like the decision to kill Bin Laden. Any grandmother in America would have said “Get him” and know that even if they missed, it could be said that at least he tried. I submit that this decision will have two impacts, one short term and one long term.
The first and short term consequence leaves me shaking my head, yet again. In regard to the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, I have seen the results of these terrorists returning to the battlefield. There is no such thing as rehabilitation. They will return to their acts of terror and inhumanity until they themselves are finally killed. Almost 30 percent of the detainees released from Guantánamo Bay returned to fight, according to research by Thomas Joslin, an analyst for the Foundation for Defense for Democracies. I had to scoff when I read this. I do not have statistics to back up my opinion, only eight deployments to Afghanistan, but I will stand by the statement that I have never known of a detainee who does not return to the battlefield. Terrorists do not decide to go from making bombs to selling cars. It is not an occupational change.
Arizona Sen. John McCain told USA Today Saturday that Guantanamo detainees “are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands”. “I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners.” McCain said. I can answer this question for you Sen. McCain, nothing…Nothing at all.
There is no doubt that the five detainees that were released from Guantánamo will kill again. We are leaving a fragile Afghan government and military in Afghanistan to continue the fight, but we’ve now given the enemy five of their commanders, who will no doubt reignite the Taliban’s ideology, methodology, and ultimately, motivation. Their release signals that America will submit.
How much more American blood will be shed under attacks led by these terrorists or worse in trying to apprehend or kill these commanders in future combat operations? What will be the cost in future American lives when these terrorists returned to the battlefield and what future forces will face now knowing that America will negotiate with terrorists? Special operations forces continue to operate in Afghanistan and in over one hundred countries and are now a bigger target because terrorists now know the value of one American military hostage.
“While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground,” Obama said Saturday.
This comment makes one wonder whether he or his administration can actually digest the “challenges” that will arise from this decision. The ramifications of this decision are far reaching. But the long term and greatest danger will be the administration’s willingness to make a deal. It is no longer the perception of negotiation with America, but the actuality.
This is not going to be just about the military. As in Iraq, Terrorist networks will migrate towards capturing easier targets like civilians to accomplish their goals. What happens when terrorist sleeper cell take over a school, movie theater or church in the US? It has happened in Russia already. We are fighting an enemy that has no problem strapping bombs to their chests and detonating them in a market full of women and children. They readily pack cars and trucks full of explosives and convince their young men to drive these bombs into military and civilian targets.
What happens when Americans are captured in order to free terrorists held by our coalition partners? This list of horrific questions gets worse and worse. What will we do now that the president has opened Pandora’s box?
The results of President Barak Hussein Obama’s decision will likely haunt this country and be chiseled into tombstones long after we are gone.
MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.” www.lionsofkandahar.com