By Kyle Balluck - 06/01/14 08:51 AM EDT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday said the U.S. moved to free Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in exchange for five Guantánamo Bay detainees “essentially to save his life,” according to multiple reports.
"It was our judgment that if we could find an opening and move very quickly ... we needed to get him out of there essentially to save his life,” Hagel said.
“I know President Obama feels very strongly about that,” Hagel added. “I do as well."
The Associated Press reported that Hagel also met with members of the special operations team the freed Bergdahl at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. The Defense secretary told them they represented the true spirit of never leaving a comrade behind, a U.S. official told the news service.
President Obama last week announced plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2016. Bergdahl, a 28-year-old Idaho native, was the last remaining American prisoner in Afghanistan.
"While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten," Obama said late Saturday at the White House. "His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day. ... The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind."
The president’s decision drew criticism from top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee.
"Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl's release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the Senate Armed Services ranking member and House Armed Services chairman, respectively, in a joint statement.