Republicans cheered the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan after nearly five years on Saturday but cautioned that the terms under which the deal occurred must protect the United States and its allies.
"I am pleased that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is finally being returned safely to his family and loved ones after nearly five years of captivity," said Arizona Sen. John McCain
, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war during Vietnam. "All Americans share in the joy that the Bergdahl family feels today and for which they have waited so long."
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But knowing that Bergdahl was exchanged for five dangerous Afghan detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, McCain said:
"I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan.
"The American people, and our Afghan partners, deserve nothing less."
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, approved of the trade for Bergdahl.
"I'm not one who likes to trade for prisoners," he told Mike Huckabee on his Fox News Channel show "Huckabee" on Saturday. "But in this instance, I would think that we probably did do the right thing....
"For his family, I know that this is a welcome piece of news and one that I think America can celebrate that we don't have another POW waiting out there to be released."
Bergdahl, 28, was the only American solider held prisoner in Afghanistan
. He was released to U.S. special forces by the Taliban on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
A native of Hailey, Idaho, Bergdahl had been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009.
Bergdahl was exchanged for the five Afghan detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in secret talks between the U.S. and the Taliban that were brokered by the government of Qatar.
The government is taking custody of the detainees, and they are to be barred from traveling outside Qatar for one year.
They include Afghanistan’s deputy defense minister under Taliban rule and others who played major roles in the regime that helped shield those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Afghan prisoners released in the deal are Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammad Nabi Omari, Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, and Abdul Haq Wasiq. Fazl is a the former deputy defense minister for the Taliban, Wasiq is a former deputy intelligence minister, and Norulla Noori and Khairkhwa were regional governors.
Taliban forces in Afghanistan had been seeking their freedom for several years.
McCain described them as "hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands."
Bergdahl was thought to have been captured by members of the Haqqani network, which operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war.
The Haqqani network, designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some autonomy.
During Bergdahl's captivity, the Taliban released five videos
— and originally demanded $1 million and the release of 21 Afghans in exchange. They included Aafia Siddiqui, the U.S.-trained Pakistani scientist
who was convicted in 2010 for trying to kill Americans while being detained in Afghanistan in 2008.
The Taliban had threatened to execute Bergdahl if Siddiqui was not released, but later reduced its demands to five the Taliban prisoners.
In a Rose Garden news conference Saturday, Obama said that Qatar had "given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security" regarding the released Afghans.
Still, it is critical that the terms under which Bergdahl was released are airtight and fully enforced, Republicans said.
"We must carefully examine the means by which we secured his freedom," Rep. Buck McKeon and Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a statement
McKeon, of California, is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, while Inhofe, who represents Oklahoma, is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services.
"America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason," the two said. "Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Berghdal’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans.
"Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans," they added. "That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk."
The legislators also noted that under the deal, Obama violated laws requiring him to notify Congress 30 days before any prisoners are transferred from Guantanamo Bay for any reason.
"Our joy at Sergeant Berghdal’s release is tempered by the fact that President Obama chose to ignore the law, not to mention sound policy, to achieve it," McKeon and Inhofe said.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that the U.S. "negotiated with terrorists and agreed to swap five senior Taliban leaders who are responsible for the deaths of many Americans."
Rogers added that he had "little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now-released Taliban leaders — and I have even less confidence in this administration’s willingness to ensure they are enforced."
Meanwhile, Idaho's GOP congressional delegation celebrated Bergdahl's release, thanking U.S. officials for their efforts to end his captivity.
"Our prayers have been answered and we offer our thanks for the perseverance of the family and the many Idahoans who have kept this vigil," Sen. Mike Crapo said in a statement
. "We appreciate the men and women who made this release possible.
"Today’s release is a reminder that we still have many brave men and women on our front lines that we must bring home safely as well," he said.
Idaho's Sen. Jim Risch said that he could "only imagine the joy and relief that Bowe and his family are feeling at this moment."
Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho said that "we are all grateful for the tireless efforts of innumerable people within the Department of Defense and Department of State in securing Bowe's release and for the work of those who have been seeking Bowe's safe return for years."
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The Associated Press and Bloomberg contributed to this report.
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