Taliban tout Sgt Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap 'victory'

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (right) waits before being released at the Afghan border Image copyright Reuters
Image caption US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (right) was released at the Afghan border

In the most striking moments of the long, triumphant Taliban video, Sgt Bowe Bergdahl blinks rapidly, looking rather dazed.

Perhaps he's unused to sunlight, perhaps he's close to tears.

Certainly he appears to be a man who barely dares to hope that freedom is but minutes away.

Waiting for US special forces to land, he looks upwards towards their helicopter just for a few seconds, almost guiltily.

His tension appears close to unbearable; perhaps he is unable to trust the evidence of his own eyes, suspecting some cruel joke.

As the helicopter lands, American soldiers race toward their old enemy. The meeting of US forces and the Haqqani network - who've been trying to kill each other for 13 years - is extraordinary in itself.

The commentator in Pashtun gloats that the handshakes were hurried, the soldiers seemed nervous and eager to get away.

Certainly they don't waste any time getting back in the helicopter, complete with their human prize.

There is no doubt at all that America's enemies - the people they have fought, and say are finished as a force - are using this swap to proclaim that they are far from beaten.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Americans in Sgt Bowe Bergdahl's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, celebrated his release

David Sedney - Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia until recently - told me: "The video is important in the context of the Taliban hailing the recent exchange as a victory for them.

"They are using it to try to counterbalance the victory the Afghan people won over them in the elections. The massive turnout was roundly trumpeted in the Afghan world as a victory over the Taliban," he added.

"They are now using this exchange as a validation - saying: 'Look how important we are, look how successful we are.' They will use it to strengthen their recruiting, strengthen their position because now they are looking at a major military offensive this summer to try to dent the confidence of the Afghan forces with a goal to try to take over the country in 2017 or 18."

There is no doubt that the Taliban are playing this for all it is worth.

One expert on the Taliban, Rahimullah Yusufzai, was recently appointed to a team to negotiate with them in Pakistan.

He told me "the Taliban has never been so happy; they have been celebrating it. It's festive, sweets have been distributed, rice has been cooked for guests.

"It's something for which they were waiting for for years; it's finally happened," he added. "They're saying it established them as a force to reckon with and that their status has been finally acknowledged."

Image copyright AP
Image caption US President Barack Obama has stood behind the prisoner swap deal amid political backlash

While some see this as a disaster, he sees it as rather hopeful.

"In the past they've been demonised as terrorists, but then the Americans agreed to talk to them; they wanted a deal," he said. "This is very positive because it should lead to more substantive peace talks, because everybody says there's no military solution in Afghanistan. If that is the case, it shows the way that there can be peace talks, there can be maybe reconciliation, some power sharing agreement."

US President Barack Obama seems dismissive of criticism, and says people attacked Washington, Lincoln and FDR in the same way.

Wars end, he argues, with negotiations and prisoner exchanges.

But the way the Taliban are using this swap is more than just a Washington media storm. It goes to the heart of what has been achieved in Afghanistan, and whether the people who the US fought for so long are not only still around, but are once again on the rise.