By Justin Sink - 06/06/14 10:25 AM EDT
The United States military is “fully capable of handling” the five Taliban militants freed in exchange for captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday.
“Let's be clear, A, we're winding down the war in Afghanistan, but B, should any end up back in Afghanistan, the United States military is fully capable of handling five Taliban,” Carney said in an interview with Charlie Rose.
Republican lawmakers have slammed the White House over the deal, suggesting that the freed militants could pose a risk to the U.S.
“These are the highest high-risk people,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told CBS News. “Others that we have released have gone back into the fight. That's been documented. So it's disturbing to me that the Taliban are the ones that named the people to be released.”
Carney indicated the White House was less concerned about the risk posed by the Taliban militants because the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan. He said that a tight focus on fighting al Qaeda, rather than remaking Afghanistan, had enabled the withdrawal and narrowed security risks.
“I think it's fair to say that the focus on al Qaeda as opposed to a grander vision of trying to bring Jeffersonian democracy to Afghanistan or defeat the Taliban was the right policy to pursue and the policy that was in the interest of the United States and has been successful,” Carney said.
“We have done serious damage to core al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that is why we need to bring that war to an end, the combat mission, even as we leave some troops and why we focus our attention now, even more than ever, on al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and elsewhere.”
The White House spokesman also said there would be time to “deal with these other issues” surrounding the Bergdahl swap. Fellow soldiers have suggested Bergdahl deliberately walked away from his campsite before being captured by the Taliban.
“We bring him home. That's what we do. That's the sacred trust and compact that we have with our soldiers. And then we deal with these other issues,” Carney said.