President Obama’s decision to exchange five terrorists for a soldier who left his base in Afghanistan endangers national security by “pretending” the Taliban isn’t targeting America, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in an interview with The Daily Signal.
Rubio, speaking to a reporter between meetings on Capitol Hill, warned: “The message has been sent that if you get your hands on an American in uniform, or an American, you’re going to be able to trade them for as many as five Taliban commanders.”
His Taliban captors released Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on May 31 after holding him captive for five years. The Obama administration made a deal to rescue Bergdahl in exchange for five senior Taliban leaders released by the United States from the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
Asked what he would have done as president, Rubio said: “I would be willing to consider anything in order to get an American serviceman or woman back from captivity, short of something that would endanger the national security of the United States–which this deal clearly did.”
“The president might try to pretend the war has ended, but no one’s told the Taliban” – @marcorubio
Key members of Congress continue to express grave doubts about the exchange and the administration’s failure to consult or even inform lawmakers. All in all, his view of the exchange is “extremely negative,” said Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is pondering a race for president.
Although it’s customary for prisoner exchanges to occur at the end of a war, Rubio told The Daily Signal in the interview Monday night, the challenge in this case is that the conflict isn’t over.
“While the president might try to pretend like the war against the Taliban has ended, no one’s told the Taliban that,” the Florida Republican said. “They continue to target Americans, target Afghans, target our allies, and just today they carried out another deadly attack in Pakistan.”
Steven Bucci, a foreign and national security policy expert at The Heritage Foundation and former top Pentagon official, said today that he agrees with that assessment.
“Senator Rubio is correct in that this sort of exchange normally would occur at the end of the conflict,” said Bucci, a former Army Special Forces officer. “We are still fighting the Taliban, so that makes this an anomaly. It appears that the president thinks it is all wrapped up already. Unfortunately, that is so wrong.”
By their own admission, Rubio said, at least four of the terrorists released from Gitmo—if not all five—will soon rejoin the Taliban’s operations against America.
“They now have an incredible amount of credibility, having been held in captivity in the United States for a number of years,” Rubio said. “I would imagine [the Taliban] will use these five individuals as fundraising tools, and [for] whatever expertise they’ve picked up from their time in captivity.”
With the Obama administration set to withdraw almost all U.S. troops by the end of 2016, Rubio said, the greatest threat related to the prisoner exchange is that Afghanistan will return to what it looked like before 9/11: an ungoverned territory that allows deadly groups such as the Taliban and al Qaeda to “train, operate, and carry out attacks” against the United States and its allies.