(CNN) - In his first public comments on the issue, Secretary of State John Kerry was unequivocal when discussing the Obama administration's commitment to monitoring the five Taliban figures exchanged for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
"I'm not telling you that they don't have some ability at some point” to return to fighting, Kerry said in an interview that aired Sunday. "But they also have an ability to get killed doing that. And I don't think anybody should doubt the capacity of the United States of America to protect Americans."
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Speaking to CNN’s Elise Labott in the seaside French village of Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, a few miles from Normandy, Kerry praised President Barack Obama's decision to swap five Taliban prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba - each of whom has experience on the battlefield - for Bergdahl, the last known prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
The secretary of state also waived off Republican criticism that the U.S. decision signifies the administration has taken its eyes off larger security questions, placing a price on the heads of American's abroad and opening a chasm for jihadists to rejoin the fight against the United States.
Kerry declined to give specifics about how the United States would track the former detainees, but he tried to erase concerns that these men could threaten American lives.
"No one should doubt the capacity of America to protect America," Kerry said when pressed about what the United States is doing to monitor the five Taliban fighters.
As the lights are cutting out on the war in Afghanistan, Kerry dismissed the notion that U.S. troops were suddenly more at risk because of the prisoner exchange.
"I just think that's a lot of baloney," he said.
"We are ending our combat role. Our combat role in Afghanistan is over. We're going to have very few people in that kind of position," he added.
But the wave of second-guessing and criticism of the administration's decision continued Sunday, as both Democrats and Republicans alike expressed discomfort with the Taliban fighters being placed under the Qatar’s custodianship.
"What we're doing here is reconstituting the Taliban government, the same guys that are mass murderers," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday.
Responding to Kerry's interview, McCain said he worried about the capacity of Qatar to prevent the five from returning to Afghanistan and fighting against allied forces. A former prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said he agreed that the United States has an "obligation to do whatever we can to bring an of our captured servicemen and women back."
In this instance though, he said the price was too high. "I wouldn't release these men," McCain said. "They were judged too great a risk. They're committed to returning to the fight."
Kerry and Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, said they are satisfied with the conditions placed on the former Guantanamo detainees, but the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said she’s skeptical Qatar’s government will keep a watchful eye on them.
"I heard John Kerry say this morning, 'Don't worry about them in Doha,' " said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California. "You can't help but worry about them in Doha."
Questions over Bergdahl's past
Since his disappearance in 2009, Bergdahl remained a priority for the Obama administration, which made multiple attempts at brokering deals for his release. According to sources in the Defense Department, a deal with the Taliban gained traction when the possibility first emerged in 2011 but ultimately fell apart and was opposed by both Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and his immediate successor, Leon Panetta. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also weighed in against such a bargain.
Part of why the deal has come under such scrutiny and further splintered lawmakers along partisan lines is the uncertainty over whether Bergdahl deliberately left his outpost of his own free will.
National security adviser Susan Rice drew the ire of Republicans in the immediate aftermath of the Bergdahl swap when she said he served with "honor and distinction," a statement since called into question by his some of his unit colleagues, who allege he may deserted. Asked by Labott if he agreed with Rice's remarks, Kerry said, "There's plenty of time to sort through" the questions revolving around Bergdahl's tenure in the armed forces.
"I don't know all the facts," Kerry said.
While some Republicans once called for Obama to work for Bergdahl's return, the murky circumstances of his capture have helped fuel questions over whether the administration struck a bad deal. Lawmakers from both parties accuse the administration of failing to provide 30 days' advance notice to Congress of a transfer of Guantanamo detainees, as required by law. The White House has given multiple reasons for the lack of notification, expressing concerns over leaks - and fears that word of the negotiations could end with Bergdahl's execution, and the urgent need to make the exchange because of Bergdahl's health.
Kerry tossed aside any suggestion that the price to bring home one of America's own was too high.
"It would have been offensive and incomprehensible to consciously leave an American behind - no matter what," Kerry said. "To leave an American behind in the hands of people who had tortured him, cut off his head, any number of things. And we would consciously choose to do that? That's the other side of this equation."
"I don't think anybody would think that is the appropriate thing to do," he said.