The five Taliban commanders who were released last year from Guantanamo Bay in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held captive by insurgents affiliated with the Taliban, will soon be able to travel the world freely if the one-year travel ban imposed on them is allowed to expire next Monday.
After the deal was hatched in May 2014, the high-level militants known as the Taliban Five were sent to Qatar, where government officials have monitored their activities and movements and enforced the travel constraints. With the restriction nearing its June 1 expiration date and American officials alarmed that the former prisoners will return to the battle for Afghanistan, the Associated Press has reported that the United States government is discussing a possible extension of the ban with Qatar, though no details have been revealed.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, who as the House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat is familiar with the particulars drawn up in the secret memorandum of understanding with Qatar that established the travel ban, told the AP that the Qataris had done a pretty good job of monitoring the former detainees, but noted that he's chiefly concerned with what comes next.
"In Congress, we spent a lot of time debating whether the Qataris were going to adequately keep an eye on them in the course of the 12 months," he said. "My point all along was that I'm more worried about month number 13 than the first 12."
Taliban forces captured Bergdahl after he left his military base in Afghanistan in 2009 at the age of 28, and he was soon in the hands of Pakistan's Haqqani network, an insurgent group that also has ties to al Qaeda. After he was exchanged for the five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other critics of the deal accused the Obama administration of releasing "the hardest of the hardcore" and of violating legal guidelines that require a month's notice to legislators before swapping prisoners.
In stressing that it was determined to thwart former Guantanamo Bay detainees from rejoining the fight, the State Department highlighted the fact that the five former prisoners were middle-aged or older and argued that they were Taliban government officials who were unlikely to resurface on the battlefield.
One of the five former detainees is alleged to have contacted other militants since arriving in Qatar, according to the AP, while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) previously declared that one or more of them also met with members of the Haqqani network who visited the country.
"Just as sure as we're sitting here, they're going back to the fight," he said of the Taliban Five.
As the ban's expiration date approaches, four out of the five detainees remain on the United Nations' blacklist that freezes their assets and imposes a separate travel restriction. But the UN ban's effectiveness is evidently limited: the UN sanctions committee has conceded that it routinely receives reports suggesting that individuals who are barred from travel had become "increasingly adept at circumventing" the sanctions, particularly when it comes to travel, though the reports are as yet officially unconfirmed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.