President Barack Obama said on Thursday he would make “no apologies” for agreeing to a deal that released Taliban detainee U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, despite controversy in Washington that Congress was not notified ahead of time.
“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child,'' Obama said at a news conference after a Group of Seven nations summit in Brussels, Belgium.
"We saw an opportunity and we seized it and I make no apologies for it," Obama reiterated.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon reported Bergdahl's health is stable and improving as he recuperates at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
In Brussels, the president addressed fierce criticism from Republicans and some Democratic allies that he did not sufficiently inform Congress over the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl, who was kept in captivity for nearly five years.
"This is not some abstraction, this is not some political football," Obama said. "As commander in chief of the armed forces, I am responsible for those kids.
"We don’t condition whether not we make the effort to get them back," he added.
Taliban weigh in
The Taliban also released a statement on Thursday, claiming Bergdahl's release shows the Taliban have legitimacy as a movement capable of negotiating successful deals with the United States, a Taliban commander told Reuters.
“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,” said Maulvi Mubarak, shadow Taliban chief of the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar.
Mubarak said the deal would also boost morale among the Taliban's ranks, including the hundreds of men under his command in three neighboring districts.
“This will give us more courage and determination to carry on this holy task,” he told Reuters.
The five Taliban leaders who were exchanged for Bergdahl have rejoined their families in Qatar after 13 years in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The freed Taliban leaders will live under restrictions in Qatar, including a one-year ban on their travel. They include: Khairullah Khairkhwa, former Herat provincial governor and founding member of the Taliban; Mullah Mohammad Fazl, former chief of the army staff; Norullah Nuri, former civilian head of the northern zone; and Abdul Haq Wasiq, former deputy head of intelligence.
The fifth man, Mohammad Nabi Omari, is being described as a relatively minor figure associated with the Haqqani network that was holding the American soldier.
Since Bergdahl's release last weekend, "his health continues to improve daily," said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Bergdahl has been speaking English with the staff at the Landstuhl medical center in Germany. However, he hasn't spoken with his parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl of Idaho, Warren said.
Bergdahl also is more engaged in his treatment plan at the center, but there is no specific timetable for his return to the U.S. for further treatment, Warren said.
Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009. Some soldiers have said he walked away from his unit, and have alleged at least six soldiers died trying to find him.
He was freed last week in a controversial prisoner-swap deal that saw five Taliban militants released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and flown to Qatar.
Some Republican members of the U.S. Congress have said Obama set a dangerous precedent with the swap for Bergdahl and might have broken the law.
"I am never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington. That is par for the course," Obama said.
Some material for this report provided by Reuters and AFP.