Qatar keeps travel ban on five Taliban amid US talks

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf speaks during a press briefing at the US State Department June 1, 2015 (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
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Washington (AFP) - Qatar has agreed to keep up a travel ban imposed on five Taliban leaders swapped for a US soldier a year ago while talks continue to hammer out their new status, a US official said Monday.

"All five remain in Qatar, where they remain subject to extensive monitoring, as well as travel restrictions. We are in close contact with our Qatari counterparts on this issue," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

The five senior Taliban figures were exchanged for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl on May 31, 2014, and transferred from the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the custody of Qatar.

But the year-long travel ban on the five is due to expire, raising questions about what happens next, including whether they could return to Afghanistan.

"We continue to work to make sure that these individuals do not pose a threat to the US, and these are ongoing discussions about what will happen next. But as those discussions happen, Qatar has agreed to maintain those restrictions," Harf said.

The five include a former Taliban army chief of staff, a former deputy intelligence minister, and a former interior minister, as well as two other senior Taliban members.

Their release triggered a storm of protest from some Republican US lawmakers, which was renewed Sunday by Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee.

"You may not find them in the role they had before, there's no doubt they're a threat," he told CNN television Sunday.

The White House had defended the exchange on grounds Bergdahl was a prisoner of war and the US was following the principle of not leaving US military personnel behind.

Bergdahl, who was taken prisoner in June 2009 after going missing from his unit, was charged in March with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.