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Opinion: Columnists

Trade of Taliban prisoners begs question: Does Obama even have an Afghan policy?

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Opinion,Columnists,Jed Babbin,Afghanistan,National Security,Taliban,Bowe Bergdahl

The prisoner swap that returned Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to American hands raises a question that goes to the heart of the president's policy in Afghanistan: just what are we trying to accomplish there?

Traded for five top Taliban leaders, Bergdahl was first portrayed by the White House as a hero. national security Adviser Susan Rice -- the Typhoid Mary of talking points -- was again turned loose on a Sunday morning talk show to convince us that Bergdahl had served honorably and with distinction in Afghanistan.

Rice hadn't apparently been briefed on the 2010 Army investigation of Bergdahl's disappearance (reported on Tuesday by AP) which found there was “incontrovertible” evidence that he had abandoned his post before being captured by the Taliban. She must have missed the 2012 Rolling Stone article which said that and more, including tipping us off to the planned trade of five Taliban for Bergdahl.

There are several statements by soldiers who served with Bergdahl that he deserted. There is reportedly a note written by him saying he was leaving because he didn't want to fight for America any longer. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Army may investigate Bergdahl's conduct.

It must. Whether he was a deserter or a confused, dumb kid is a question that needs to be investigated under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In capital cases, and this may be one, an Article 32 is often conducted by a military judge. It's like a civilian grand jury. If it determines Bergdahl should be charged with desertion, or some lesser crime, he will be court-martialed.

Congress will want to launch its own investigation into the release of the five Taliban leaders. It shouldn't bother. The law that prohibits the transfer of Guantanamo Bay inmates to other countries without giving 30 days' notice to Congress is almost certainly unconstitutional. Obama violated it, but so what? The problem is not the violation of that law. The two problems are the price tag Obama has attached to every American soldier and civilian in Afghanistan, and the danger these men pose.

Obama’s action — despite his protestation — is directly contrary to America’s national security interests in Afghanistan and around the world.

The five are not some innocent sheepherders rounded up at random. They are: a former Taliban interior minister who was close to Osama bin Laden; a former chief of staff of the Taliban army believed to have personally supervised the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims; a provincial governor who was believed to have participated in the Shiite massacres; a deputy intelligence chief close to al Qaeda; and a member of a joint al Qaeda-Taliban cell whose case file says he was “one of the most significant Taliban leaders detained at Guantanamo.” No wonder the Taliban are celebrating. They're getting their brain trust back.

Obama plans to leave about 9,800 troops, including a lot of special operators, in Afghanistan until the end of 2016. Since January, according to my sources, 26 special operators have been killed in Afghanistan. That means 21 American kids will grow up without a father. To what end?

The generals have told us for more than a decade that our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan were “fragile and reversible.” They were broken and reversed in Iraq and will be in Afghanistan quickly after we leave. Obama's policy contains no definition of what victory would be far less a plan to achieve it.

Without such a plan, failure -- like our failure in Iraq -- is inevitable. Bowe Bergdahl may be guilty of deserting his unit in time of war. Obama is abandoning the troops to a war we don't intend to win. The action of each is a metaphor for the other's.

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research. He is the author of "The BDS War Against Israel," with Herbert London.
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Jed Babbin

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The Washington Examiner