June 8th, 2014
12:09 PM ET
2 months ago

Marine general: Taliban worse off after Bergdahl swap

Washington (CNN) - While most in Washington fret about the potential return of five former Guantanamo detainees to the front lines in Afghanistan, the former head of U.S. operations in the war-torn country says the Taliban is now worse off after the swap for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that President Barack Obama's decision to trade five Taliban hardliners for Bergdahl should give the United States military more latitude to combat the Taliban.

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Despite frequent criticism from both sides of the aisle that the move puts five hardcore jihadist back on the battlefield, Mattis said American commanders no longer have to fear that an operation against the Taliban will cost Bergdahl's life.

"We no longer have that concern they have this pawn they can play against us," Mattis said.

Mattis, who helmed CENTCOM, a command that includes Afghanistan, from 2010 until 2013, recounted how the chief military officers there were always uneasy over launching strikes against the Taliban or the Haqqani network so long as the Taliban had Bergdahl in their custody.

"Every time we did so, we were concerned Bowe Bergdahl would end up dead," Mattis said.

While the general conceded the administration paid a high price for Bergdahl's return, Mattis suggested the White House ultimately won the chess match with the Taliban over negotiations for Bergdahl's life.

"It’s also a military vulnerability the Haqqanis now face," Mattis asserted, "the Taliban now faces, because they no longer hold one of the U.S. soldiers in captivity.”

The Republican chariman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, disagreed with Mattis' assessment.

"We've made a serious, serious geopolitical mistake," Rogers said on ABC's "This Week."

Rogers said the swap was not the only course of action available to the Obama White House and painted the President's choice as the least attractive item on a menu full of unsavory options. The Michigan Republican joined the collective consternation over the security assurances offered by the Qatari government, doubting its ability or willingness to prevent the five former prisoners from meeting with Taliban fighters. Even if there is a lull in the coming months, Rogers warns that the U.S. security apparatus shouldn't be fooled - these men will rejoin the fight.

"I don't think you'll see any operational activity right now by them," Rogers said. "They're smart enough to know better. But it allows them to prepare for what's next."

"We're going to pay for this decision for years," he added.

But Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton said Rogers and other Republicans like Sen. John McCain are over-estimating the value of the five Taliban prisoners on the battlefield.

"These are not super-villains," Eaton said on CNN. "We're releasing five Joes out there who are not super-villains.

"They can be captured or killed in the future, so I'm not sure why we're so afraid of these guys."

soundoff (54 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Retired Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton said Rogers and other Republicans like Sen. John McCain are over-estimating the value of the five Taliban prisoners on the battlefield.

    Republicans over estimating , NO WAY !

    John McCain was right about Iraq , he is always right !

    June 8, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  2. davecu

    One by one, the principles that this once great country was on, are being compromised to the point that we, as a nation, no know what we believe.
    Trading 5 known mutts for this one boy is great for the family, it gives many a warm fuzzy feeling but since we are still fighting these mutts, was it the 'right' thing to do.
    History is going to be hard on the decline of "Western Civilization".

    June 8, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Of course the Republicans disagree, this is not about truth, this is about power grabbing and making the administration look bad. They don't give a hoot about a general's opinion, they seemingly know more about war when in fact all they know is greed, deception and dishonor. I virtually hate the Republican Party and all it stands for and I served my country for 30 years. Most of these Republicans have served nothing but special interests for 30 years. Disgusting...

    June 8, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  4. Blake

    Queue critics now saying this General is a traitor and "Obumalober." You would think from the media we just released General Zod and company from the phantom zone to destroy the world.

    All but one of these 5 were Taliban Administration officials when the Taliban was the official government of Afghanistan. They have been held for 12 years and most of the contacts they had are most likely dead by drone attack due to the hundreds if not thousands of AQ and Taliban officials killed. These 5 are under watch by Qatar and "others" quoting Kerry, which means the CIA is watching them. Kerry also said that the deal doesn't prevent them from "dealing" with them and these 5 Taliban risking death by attempting to rejoin the fight.

    Really one of the biggest and actually true complaints about the Obama administration has been their liberal use of Drone strikes. They have killed almost all the veteran leadership of AQ (I think only OBL's second in command is still alive out of about 138 guys including OBL) and the Taliban over the years by the hundreds. We even found and killed Bin Laden in Pakistan. How can ANYONE believe that these guys could get away from the CIA when we have eyes on them as we speak? How can anyone think if they managed to try and join back, that they wouldn't be taken out like all the others?

    The only real criticism is that this is a PR positive for Taliban/AQ and I would agree. However are these guys going to get Americans killed directly? Very highly unlikely. It's more likely we kept these guys alive a lot longer than they would have been if we hadn't put them in Gitmo. This also helps with possible negotiations in Afghanistan with the Taliban which MUST occur (which is probably the hidden truth). After watching and looking into the issues in Afghanistan there is no way the Afghan's are competent enough to combat the Taliban long term.

    June 8, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  5. bj1121

    What would the General know about the Bergdahl situation?? He's a liberal spinning. But me, Im at home, never served and I know all there is to know about military action during war time.

    -Typical right winger

    June 8, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  6. Lily

    Marine Generals are the ones we should listen to. They know how wars are fought, who is a dangerous enemy and who is not. We shouldn't listen to those much-know like Sean Hannity and the whole Fox News battalion who are spreading their propaganda just only for political gains.

    June 8, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. Gurgyl

    Taliban worse off even before 9/11 too. GOP needs to shut up. Another needless rant as usual. Pathetic party of "no". Where is jobs-Bill??????

    June 8, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  8. Jules

    Gen Mattis is and was the one general I always respected when I served as an 03 in the Marines. If he thinks the Taliban are worst off, than I trust him

    June 8, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. Gary

    Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that President Barack Obama's decision to trade five Taliban hardliners for Bergdahl should give the United States military more latitude to combat the Taliban.
    Look out General. The great "Respecters" of our military. The ones who claim to honor the military more than any other. Will soon start bashing you. It's party first with these guys.

    June 8, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  10. KNOEL

    When Republicans come out questioning the strategic knowings of a military general, you know politics has more to play than anything else. Do republicans really believe that American lives are now more at risk? I would argue that if anything – this swap will ensure that those hardened terrorist who previously would have thought nothing about capturing and killing Americans may now pause to think it would be better to capture and keep alive. Americans are more valuable now – kept alive,which is good for our troops and good for those civilians that may find themselves in harms way. When will the republicans stop playing politics and help this president help America – even when the democrats were in opposition, there was compromise and a sense of nationhood. Republicans need to stop looking at this presidency thru rose-coloured glasses.

    June 8, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  11. Middle man

    "These are not super-villains," Eaton said on CNN. "We're releasing five Joes out there who are not super-villains.

    Exactly! Some are acting like we just let Magneto go and now he will round up super-villans and take over the world. Regardless what 'House committee' your involved with, I trust the word of generals over a congressman any day.

    Just another example of the joke that Washington has become. Sad.

    June 8, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  12. Mr Mel

    Those 5 guys are13 years older. They may be wiser but they're not stronger, Hopefully by the time they go home we'll be out of there.

    June 8, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  13. zippity

    So confused – if these Taliban prisoners were so unimportant why did Obama keep them in Guantanamo for six years after assuming the presidency, after having promised to close down Guantanamo during his candidacy? And apparently we've been holding back on attacking the Taliban out of fear they might kill Bergdahl? But thousands of other US soldiers have been killed in this war and that didn't hold us back at all?

    June 8, 2014 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  14. kinjirurm

    All these people playing armchair quarterback, thinking they know more than an actual quarterback such as General Mattis or Major General Eaton.

    June 8, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  15. 1776usa2016

    The Taliban aren't worse off or better off.

    The Taliban are just sitting around playing cards or whatever they do to pass the time until we leave.

    End of story.

    .

    June 8, 2014 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  16. Gurgyl

    GOP is dead with this blow–they better cry on Bush, Reagan for this scar rest of their lives. No fool will ever consider the she rethuglicans for any position.

    June 8, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  17. Bradley Olsen

    That this nation should be afraid of 5 bearded men is ridiculous.

    June 8, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  18. holspark

    So our ENTIRE war against the Taliban was determined by whether or not one soldier died??? In light of this being D-DAy plus 70, its good Eisenhower did not have the same ridiculous theory about the death of ONE soldier when he ordered the invasion of Germany. BO is a Dope.

    June 8, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. John Debba

    @davecu "One by one, the principles that this once great country was on, are being compromised to the point that we, as a nation, no know what we believe. Trading 5 known mutts for this one boy is great for the family, it gives many a warm fuzzy feeling but since we are still fighting these mutts, was it the 'right' thing to do. History is going to be hard on the decline of "Western Civilization""

    You may have find this difficult to believe, but incoherent thought cannot be passed off as sound reasoning.

    June 8, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  20. mike g

    sooo funny, as if 12 years changes someones ideology... these guys are not average joes as the general implies.. they are the top leaders and only someone with their head in the sand would think they are not going to get back involved in trying to kill Americans and Afghanies. The Prez knew bergdahl was a deserter and after 5 years suddenly felt if he didn't do this absurd deal they would kill him? really? after holding him for 5 years, please. As for "you always swap prisoners at the end of a war"... that is true, however we are NOT at the end of this war, as the Prez has said we will be there until 2016.

    Regardless of how you feel about this swap you have to admit that the result of this swap shows our enemies that kidnapping soldiers in the future can be very rewarding. Just based on that fact this was a bad deal.

    June 8, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  21. yerkiddinright

    Apparently the GOP believes we released Magneto, Juggernaut, and 3 other Men mutants. I'm sure their continual obsession with saying NO to everything that Obama does has nothing to do with it.

    June 8, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  22. Anon

    What if Bergdahl were still a regular soldier on his second tour having never been captured and he went on a mission against a Taliban Headquarters that resulted in the capture of the 5 Taliban leaders now in discussion (assuming they were still at large and not in Guantanamo). As a result of this mission, these Taliban could be off the battlefield and not a threat until US forces leave Afghanistan and hostilities are over.
    Would it be worth the loss of his life if he were killed as part of that mission that kept those 5 high level Taliban from waging war against US Forces from 2014 until we left Afghanistan?
    If the answer is "no", why do we even bother to have a single soldier fighting the war in Afghanistan at great personal risk of their lives and our national fortune since 2009?
    The universal answer from all military I have discussed this with is "yes", it would be regrettable, but worth taking casualties to kill or capture these 5 Taliban.
    Apologies to Mrs. Clinton but "what difference does it make?" Bergdahl killed in action capturing these 5 Taliban and putting them in goal for years or Bergdahl, remaining a living POW and keeping them in goal for years? In both cases the 5 Taliban are neutralized as a threat for years to come.
    To hear General Officers talking that these 5 Taliban can always be killed or re-captured in the future is strange. They were already captured. Do Generals expect to kill or capture them again without incurring a single US casualty? I always thought Generals tried not to pay in blood for the same terrain or objective multiple times.

    June 8, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  23. cbp

    We have asked our military members to bring about peace and independence for Afghanistan and Iraq. Those who did the asking are sitting in Washington and believe they have the answers to any problems within these countries. Those who are on the front every day have many issues that they need to contend with, They are definitely walking a tightrope these days.

    We needed to bring our soldier home. We need to give him a chance to explain. Those who speak the loudest may not have the answers. Those in his unit must be aware of the problems that existed and why they existed. It is time to stop the political rhetoric and move one. Our Congress does not want to be partners with the Executive Branch. They forget that the represent one state or one district. We send them to Washington to work together which they say obviously ignore.

    June 8, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  24. THISTOOSHALLPASS

    Those released back to the Taliban will probably get executed by the Taliban for allowing themselves to get caught in the first place. No worry!

    June 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  25. mkuske

    This is ludicrous. So his strategy was to not retaliate against the Taliban when they again and again attacked us, killing God knows how many soldiers, for fear that one single deserter would be harmed??? No wonder we had so many casualties!!! That has to be one of the most idiotic things I've ever heard from military leadership.

    Also, note to Gen. Mattis: In case you hadn't heard we'll be spending all of our time packing up and leaving Afghanistan. There won't be much time to take the fight to the Taliban.

    June 8, 2014 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
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