Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was personally and intensely involved in the debate over swapping five Taliban commanders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in 2011 and 2012. But she had severe reservations about the potential deal, and demanded stricter conditions for the release of the prisoners than what President Obama settled for last week.
Despite that the White House’s claim this week that the United States did not negotiate “directly” with the Taliban to secure the Bergdahl swap, the State Department, Defense Department, and White House officials did meet several times with Taliban leaders in 2011 and 2012 to discuss the deal. The negotiations, held in in Munich and Doha, fell apart in early 2012. But before they did, Clinton had a framework deal drawn up that was much tougher on the Taliban than what ultimately got done two years later.
Three former administration officials who were involved in the process told The Daily Beast that Clinton was worried about the ability to enforce the deal and disinclined to trust the Taliban or the Haqqani network in Pakistan, which held Bergdahl until this weekend. Clinton was so concerned, the former officials added, that she may not have even signed off if the negotiations had succeeded.
“She was heavily involved from the beginning, she was very skeptical of the arrangement, she was very wary of it,” one former administration official said. “If we had come to some agreement she perhaps would have backed it, but we never got to that point.”
Clinton was not the only top member of the Obama administration skeptical of the deal. Three U.S. intelligence officials told The Daily Beast on Monday that James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk of releasing the Taliban commanders.
Other officials weren’t so sure and said the American negotiators knew the deal had to be iron clad because convincing Clinton to support it would be a challenge.
“She was felt that the Haqqani network were really bad guys,” Congressman Jim Moran told The Daily Beast. “She was reluctant to enter into negotiations with them.”
There were two main differences between the Clinton-led negotiations that took place in 2011 and 2012 and the largely White House-led process in late 2013 and this year that ultimately achieved the prisoner swap. First of all, Clinton’s deal would have had stricter measures to ensure that the Taliban held up their end of the deal—and kept their released commanders from returning to the fight.
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