A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged a new video released by the Taliban showing the hand over of a gaunt-looking Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, saying U.S. authorities are reviewing it but remain focused on getting Bergdahl "the care he needs."
“We are aware of the video allegedly released by the Taliban showing the transfer into U.S. hands of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary said in a statement released early Wednesday.
“We have no reason to doubt the video's authenticity, but we are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs.”
The 17-minute video, emailed to media, shows the final moments of Bergdahl's five years living with the Taliban, as armed men led him to a Blackhawk helicopter that had circled above for several minutes before landing. Taliban fighters – one with a rocket-propelled launcher at the ready – dot the surrounding hillsides.
The narration on the video says the transfer took place in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan.
Clean-shaven and dressed in traditional Afghan clothing – a white cotton salwar kameez — Bergdahl is shown being escorted from a silver truck to the helicopter where three men in civilian clothes shake hands with the Taliban before patting Bergdahl down and loading him into the helicopter.
As they approach the helicopter, Bergdahl's Taliban escorts can be heard speaking in Pashto, one of the two main Afghan languages.
"Don't come back to Afghanistan," the man tells Bergdahl. "You won't make it out alive next time," he adds as other men respond with laughter.
Moments before the helicopter landed, a group of the Taliban near the pickup are heard shouting: "Long life to Mujahedeen," - translated to mean “those who engage in jihad” - and “long live Mullah Omar - the leader of the Taliban.”
A Taliban statement, also distributed to media, quoted their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar describing the release of the five Taliban officials from Guantanamo as a significant achievement for the movement.
The military says the 28-year-old Bergdahl is now at a facility going through a decompression and transition process.
As Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, prepares to celebrate his return, euphoria over his release has shifted to concern as stories quoting soldiers who served with him characterizing Bergdahl as a deserter fill the media.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that he asked the military for Bergdahl's file and privately viewed it when the administration first proposed a potential swap a few years ago.
He said the file did not contain any charges that Bergdahl deserted and now he wants to know why.
Chambliss also is calling on the Obama administration to declassify the files of the five senior Taliban leaders released from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl. Republicans are referring to released Taliban officials as the “Fab Five” of terrorism and the “Taliban Dream Team.”
“The president needs to look the American people in the eye and explain to the American people why he was justified in releasing the five individuals. And why their background didn’t demand and mandate that they be detained at Guantanamo for an indefinite period of time,” Chambliss told reporters on Tuesday.
This story was first published at 6:26 a.m. and is based in part on wire reports.