KABUL — The Taliban released a video Wednesday showing their fighters handing over Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to American forces, providing a direct look at a dramatic moment in the American military campaign in Afghanistan that is prompting sharp criticism in Afghanistan and the United States.
The video also provided an important moment for the Taliban and for their push to refine their publicity efforts to support an argument that they are a legitimate state in exile.
In the video, Bergdahl is wearing traditional Afghan robes, and his face and head appear to have been recently shaved. For much of the video, he is seen waiting in a silver and red pickup truck surrounded by Taliban fighters.
As a US Black Hawk helicopter approaches, one of the insurgents is heard telling Bergdahl: “Don’t come back to Afghanistan. If you do, you won’t make it out alive next time.” Other insurgents standing nearby laugh at the warning.
Then the helicopter lands and Bergdahl, clutching a plastic bag, is handed over to Americans who are wearing civilian clothes. The Americans quickly lead him away, pat him down, and casually drop the bag he was holding. They board the helicopter and fly off.
But beyond the direct images, the framing of the video by the Taliban, and the commentary heard about it, all go to reinforce the group’s portrayal of the US as a hated invader and of the Taliban fighters’ role as banner-carriers for Islam and Afghan pride.
The video opens with a narrator reading verses from the Koran, then, speaking in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s two main languages, the narrator encourages Muslims to “fight these infidels.”
The narrator quickly shifts to explaining the agreement to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. For the insurgents, getting the five men back was “blissful news” and a “historic achievement,” the narrator says, which “filled up the eyes of all Muslims with tears of happiness.”
He then expresses dismay with the Americans, who rushed through the encounter and did not stop to talk or exchange polite greetings, as is customary in Afghanistan, even during hostage releases. He complains that they had managed to shake hands with only two of the Americans, and that one of them had hastily shoved his left hand forward, considered a particularly rude gesture in Afghanistan.
US officials said they were aware of the video and were reviewing it. “We have no reason to doubt the video’s authenticity,” said Rear Admiral John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. “Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sergeant Bergdahl the care he needs.”