Qatar has agreed to temporarily extend travel restrictions on the five Taliban militants -- the so-called “Taliban Five” -- living in the country since their release from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp last year. The militants were released last June in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- an American soldier taken prisoner by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani Network in 2009.
“The government of Qatar has agreed to maintain the current restrictive conditions on these individuals as we continue these discussions. All five remain in Qatar, where they remain subject to extensive monitoring as well as travel restrictions,” a senior U.S. State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reportedly said. The travel ban on the ex-detainees was due to expire Monday.
“We are in close contact with our Qatari counterparts on this issue, and continue to work to make sure these individuals do not pose a threat to the United States,” the official reportedly added.
The release of the five men -- Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mohammad Nabi Omari -- has been a controversial issue in the U.S., with many Republicans criticizing President Barack Obama’s decision to do so.
The freed militants “are the hardest of the hard-core. These are the highest high-risk people, and others that we have released have gone back into the fight” John McCain (R-Ariz.) reportedly said last June.
Criticism of the deal to swap the prisoners for Bergdahl grew after the U.S. Army charged him with desertion. Bergdahl faces a preliminary hearing on those charges on July 8, and could face a life sentence if convicted.
“The Obama administration put countless American troops and civilians at risk when it chose to ignore the law and unilaterally release five senior Taliban terrorists from Guantanamo Bay,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had said, in a statement released Friday. “Now these five will be free to travel, and based on news reports we already know at least one has tried to return to the battlefield.”