Defense

Pentagon: Jordan ISIS swap not the same as Bergdahl

Jordan’s planned prisoner exchange with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for a captured Jordanian pilot is raising uncomfortable questions for the Obama administration over its own hostage policy.

U.S. officials on Wednesday would not say whether they supported Jordan’s decision to swap a female prisoner who attempted a suicide bombing in Jordan for a pilot whose plane went down in Syria during a mission in the U.S.-led war against ISIS on Dec. 24.

{mosads}Officials reiterated their position of not making concessions to terrorists, but struggled to explain how the move would be different from the U.S. swap of five senior Taliban commanders held at Guantanamo Bay for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. 

“It’s a completely different situation,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said at a press briefing on Wednesday. 

Bergdahl “was a U.S. Army soldier being held in a status akin to being a prisoner of war,” Kirby said. “That was not a hostage situation. He was being held in captivity by opposing forces.” 

When journalists pointed out that the Jordanian pilot is also being held in captivity by “opposing forces,” Kirby said the difference is that the Taliban is more legitimate as an opposing force than ISIS. 

“ISIS is not in the same situation or category as the Taliban in terms of legitimacy as an opposing force,” he said. ISIS is “a terrorist network.” 

Kirby said he did not know if the Taliban was ever designated as a “terrorist organization” or not. 

“The Taliban is an armed insurgency. ISIL is a terrorist group. We don’t make concessions to terrorist groups,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters later Wednesday, using an alternate name for the group.

Bergdahl, 28, left his post in Afghanistan in 2009, and was subsequently captured by the Taliban, and was reportedly held by the Haqqani network, a terrorist group affiliated with the Taliban. 

But U.S. officials argue that they negotiated the swap of the five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl through Qatar, not directly with the Haqqani network. 

The U.S. announced it was reviewing its hostage policy after ISIS beheaded three Americans, and their families complained to the media about a lack of communication with the government, as well as receiving conflicting information. 

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said that review was “ongoing.” 

She would not comment on what the U.S. has discussed with Jordan, but said “every country has the ability and the right to make decisions.” 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who has pressed the administration to review its hostage policy, said “a trade is a concession,” no matter if it’s done through third parties or not. 

“The Administration screwed up when it traded Bergdahl for five detainees. That deal is surely what prompted ISIS and other groups to feel more emboldened with their hostage demands—and that’s playing out right now with Jordan and Japan,” Hunter said.

This story was updated at 10:05 p.m.

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