Politics & Policy

Bowe Bergdahl Video 'Scoop' Puts Taliban Ahead of the News


As a partisan battle broke out in the U.S. over the deal that freed Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, half a world away, the Taliban jumped ahead of the news cycle. By releasing a video of Bergdahl’s handover in Afghanistan, the militant Islamic movement was able to grab attention while also framing the moment in a way intended to portray itself in the best light.

In the 8-minute viral video, Taliban fighters present themselves to global viewers from their own perspective. These men joke around with each other. At the same time, however, they show themselves being taken seriously—and not shot at—by Americans who otherwise have spent the past decade trying to blow them into oblivion.

The video also gives a glimpse inside U.S. operations that Americans would surely never provide.

The clip begins as Bergdahl waits in a pickup truck. A Taliban fighter waves a white flag to signal to an approaching U.S. helicopter. One of the fighters warns Bergdahl not to return to Afghanistan, because he won’t come back alive the next time, according to a New York Times translation.

In an indication that the Taliban are playing to an international, English-speaking audience, words flash up on the screen around the 3-minute mark: “Don’ come back to Afghanistan,” with the typo included.

The sequence during which the Americans arrive becomes an opportunity for the Taliban to score points, at least in their own cultural venue. A fighter who narrates points out that the visitors failed to greet their counterparts politely, and only two shook hands with them, according to the Times translation. One, who seems to be in a rush, extends his left hand in his haste—a rude move in that part of the world.

The Taliban also may have been savvy in what they didn’t show of Bergdahl’s condition. His head and face appear recently shaved. According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited official sources it didn’t identify, other Taliban videos exist that show an alarming deterioration in Bergdahl’s health. Those clips haven’t been made public.

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Silver is a reporter for Bloomberg News in Rome, and author of The Lost Chalice: The Real-Life Chase for One of the World's Rarest Masterpieces (HarperCollins). Follow him on Twitter @vtsilver.

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