This undated image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. / AP
President Obama praised the troops and government officials who rescued Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl on Saturday, and he offered a defense of the release of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay in exchange.
The government of Qatar, which helped broker Bergdahl's release, has "given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security" in terms of the five newly released Gitmo prisoners, Obama said during brief remarks in the White House Rose Garden.
"As I said earlier this week, we're committed to winding down the war in Afghanistan, and we are committed to closing Gitmo. But we also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home," the president said.
Joined by Bergdahl's parents, Obama said that family members, neighbors, fellow servicemembers, and diplomats in the United States and Qatar all worked toward this day.
"While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten," Obama said.
The president noted that Bergdahl is now receiving medical care, and he hopes he can rejoin his family soon.
Bergdahl's mother, Jani, said "we will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers."
Bob Bergdahl, the sergeant's father, said he is not sure whether his son can still speak English, and he made some of his remarks in the Pashto language. "I'm your father, Bowe," the elder Bergdahl said at one point.
The lone American prisoner of war from in Afghanistan, Bergdahl spent nearly five years in captivity after his capture by the Taliban insurgents.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday the military operation to free Bergdahl was not relayed to Congress because officials believed the soldier's life was in danger.
In his first extensive public comments about Saturday's operation, Hagel said intelligence the U.S. had gathered suggested that Bergdahl's "safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating."
Taliban members handed Bergdahl over to special operations forces in eastern Afghanistan, and later in the day the detainees were flown from the Guantanamo detention center to Qatar.
The Pentagon did not give Congress the required 30-day notice for the release of detainees.
Hagel said it was the administration's judgment the military had to move quickly to get Bergdahl out, "essentially to save his life."
Speaking to reporters traveling with him just hours after Bergdahl was flown from Afghanistan to a military medical center in Germany, Hagel said the special forces operation that secured Bergdahl went remarkably smoothly..
"No shots were fired. There was no violence," said Hagel. "It went as well as we not only expected and planned, but I think as well as it could have. ‚?¶The timing was right. The pieces came together."
While officials and lawmakers across Washington applauded the release of Bergdahl, some questioned the release of the five detainees from Guantanamo Bay.
Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he is "extremely troubled" by the Gitmo swap, adding that "this fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described the detainees as "hardened terrorists" who may seek revenge against American targets. McCain said he wants to know what steps are being taken to make sure "these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners."
Other government officials echoed Obama's statements and offered to help Bergdahl in his recovery.
Hagel said the military will give Bergdahl "all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal."
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. military ethos is "that we never leave a fallen comrade."
"Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan," Dempsey said. "Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl."
Secretary of State John Kerry said he briefed Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday on Bergdahl's release.
"As we look to the future in Afghanistan, the United States will continue to support steps that improve the climate for conversations between Afghans about how to end the bloodshed in their country through an Afghan-led reconciliation process," Kerry said.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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