WASHINGTON – Sen. Lindsey Graham said Thursday that the Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been in touch with members of the al-Qaida linked Haqqani network, yet all five still are being monitored in Qatar.
The Pentagon said Thursday that it is working with Qatar and is confident that any threat posed by the former detainees can be mitigated.
Graham, R-S.C., who recently visited Qatar, said he had been afraid that one of the detainees had left the country, but said he was assured during his visit that all five remain in the tiny nation on the Arabian Peninsula.
Qatar gained public praise from President Barack Obama for brokering the controversial deal in May 2014 that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban captivity in exchange for the release of the five senior Taliban officials who had been imprisoned for years at the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.
Qatar promised Obama it would keep the five under watch for one year, although they would then be free to leave.
"It's just a year deal," Graham told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Just as sure as we're sitting here, they're going back to the fight."
"They've had some Haqqani people come to meet with them. ... They're reaching out. The Taliban five are communicating with people inside Afghanistan."
However, Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a leading Capitol Hill voice on foreign policy, said all five are still in Qatar.
"I was afraid one had left, but they told me they're all still there," he said.
The Pentagon said in a statement that it would not comment on specific cases involving the detainees.
"However, we take any incidence of re-engagement very seriously, and we work in close coordination through military, intelligence, law enforcement and diplomatic channels to mitigate re-engagement and to take follow-on action when necessary," the statement said. "The Defense Department has a close security partnership with the government of Qatar. We're confident in our ability to continue to mitigate any threat that may be posed by the former Guantanamo detainees."
Haqqani operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war. The network, which the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some degree of autonomy.
The five detainees released were:
— Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence.
— Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001.
— Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
— Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul.
— Mohammad Fazl, who Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.