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Barack Obama defends operation to recover US soldier from Taliban

Tuesday, 3 June 2014 - 7:11pm IST | Agency: Reuters

President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended the deal to get US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl out of Taliban captivity, saying questions that have emerged about the circumstances of the soldier's capture did not negate the need to bring him home. As Bergdahl emerges from five years of captivity, former comrades have accused him of walking away from his unit, prompting a manhunt that they say cost the lives of at least six fellow soldiers. "Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he's held in captivity. Period. Full stop," Obama told a news conference in Poland.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Tuesday that the army "will not look away from misconduct if it occurred" although other military officials have indicated Bergdahl would not face any charges after his five-year ordeal. Bergdahl, who was flown to a military hospital in Germany over the weekend to undergo physical and mental assessments, was not being interrogated and had not yet seen his family, Obama said. The president, who has drawn criticism for not notifying Congress ahead of the transfer of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in return for Bergdahl's release, said his administration had told lawmakers earlier about a possible swap.

"We have consulted with Congress for quite some time about the possibility that we might need to execute a prisoner exchange in order to recover Sgt. Bergdahl. We saw an opportunity. We were concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl's health," Obama said. "We seized that opportunity. And the process was truncated because we wanted to make sure that we did not miss that window."

Obama acknowledged that the freed Taliban fighters could potentially act against US security but said the United States could go after them if they did. "We will be keeping eyes on them. Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely," Obama said. "I wouldn't be doing it if I thought that it was contrary to American national security and we have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if in fact they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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