KANDAHAR Afghanistan (Reuters) - The prisoner swap that freed the last U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan shows the Taliban have legitimacy as a movement capable of negotiating successful deals with the United States, a Taliban commander told Reuters on Thursday.
Five Taliban prisoners including senior members of the ousted regime were released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for 28-year-old Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who had been kidnapped by the Taliban.
“This gives the Islamic Emirates more legitimacy in front of the world. It shows we are able to deal directly with the Americans and also successfully,” Maulvi Mubarak, shadow Taliban chief of the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar, said.
The Taliban government was overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks but the insurgency still has its own shadow governors across the country.
Mubarak said the deal would also boost morale among the Taliban’s ranks, including the hundreds of men under his command in three neighbouring districts.
“This will give us more courage and determination to carry on this holy task,” he told Reuters.
Despite over 13 years of war and billions spent on reconstruction, the insurgency remains a powerful force and has gained ground as foreign troops have withdrawn, with most due to leave by the end of 2014.
Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan on Saturday after five years in captivity in exchange for the transfer to Qatar of five Taliban members.
It provoked criticism from some lawmakers in Congress who were angry that U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration had not alerted them in advance, while some of Bergdahl’s former comrades have said that he was captured after deserting.
Reporting by Sarwar Anwari in Kandahar; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Louise Ireland