Gates Troubled By Afghan Government's Taliban Prisoner Exchange

Thursday, March 22nd 2007, 3:34 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed concern Thursday over the Afghan government's decision to free five Taliban prisoners in exchange for the freedom of an Italian journalist.

Asked at a Pentagon news conference whether he was troubled by the deal, given that it implies the Afghan government has let Taliban militants resume their fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Gates replied, ``Yes.''

``This was between the Afghan government and the Italians,'' he added. ``We are not the sovereign government of Afghanistan, so I think we have influence but we don't have the authority or the ability to dictate decisions to that government.''

Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who writes for Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, was freed Monday after two weeks in captivity with the Taliban. His Afghan driver, who was also seized, was beheaded, and the fate of his translator is not known.

The Afghan government called the swap ``an exceptional case.''

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States did not approve of the deal.

``Our views are ... very clear: We don't negotiate with terrorists; we don't advise others to do so as well,'' McCormack said. ``The concern I think is obvious, in that you have individuals who are potentially quite dangerous who have been released from prison.''

The United States has about 25,000 troops in Afghanistan and has invested tens of billions of dollars since invading and overthrowing the Taliban regime in 2001.