WASHINGTON -- The chairman and the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the Obama administration's exchange of five Taliban leaders for an Army sergeant who was a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years.
In a series of letters, the nation's top military leaders said the United States does not leave troops behind. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the swap in May was likely the last, best chance to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Five senior Taliban officials were released from more than a decade's detention at at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl, who had disappeared from his post in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. The five Taliban are to remain in Qatar for a year.
Adm. James Winnefeld wrote in his letter that while the five are hard-core Taliban, they never posed a direct threat to the U.S. homeland or American interests outside Afghanistan.
I do not consider any of them to be `game changers in being able to substantially alter the military situation or otherwise provide considerable benefit to the Taliban campaign, Winnefeld wrote.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno said the five Taliban had been held at Guantanamo for more than a decade and the fight has changed since then, reducing their relevancy.
Several members of the Joint Chiefs said they did not know the specific details of the swap in advance. Lawmakers were furious that President Barack Obama failed to notify Congress 30 days in advance, as required by law.
Lawmakers have raised questions about whether Bergdahl was a deserter and whether the United States gave up too much for his freedom.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, released the letters on Thursday.
Each of these military leaders emphasized a simple principle -- America does not leave its troops behind, Levin said in a statement. The unanimous support of the Joint Chiefs for securing Sergeant Bergdahls release is a powerful statement on the importance of that commitment. I give great weight to their views, and I believe its important for the American people to hear them.
Bergdahl returned to the United States on June 13 and has been receiving care at a Texas military base as part of his reintegration process into society.