WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Friday that the controversial prisoner swap that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from five years of captivity in Afghanistan is "something that I would do again."
"We have released, both under my administration and previous administrations, a large number of former Taliban fighters, some of whom will return to the battlefield," he said. "But by definition, you don't do prisoner exchanges with your friends, you do them with your enemies."
He said that other tough choices lie ahead as the United States extricates its forces from Afghanistan over the next two years.
"It's important for us to recognize that the transition process of ending a war is going to involve, on occasion, releasing folks who we may not trust but we can't convict," Obama said in an interview with NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
"And I've been very clear about the fact that over time, we're going to have to whittle away at the number of prisoners who were in Guantanamo as part of this transition out of the war in Afghanistan."
About 150 detainees remain in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most for more than a dozen years. None has been brought to trial. The facility, set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, held more than 750 detainees at one point.
The interview was the first time Obama has described the prisoner exchange in the context of his repeated vows to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Congress has made that impossible so far, and anger welled up this week because Obama didn't consult Congress before transferring the five Taliban members to Qatar on May 31 as part of the swap for Bergdahl.
Under international law, countries typically release or repatriate prisoners of war at the end of hostilities.
"It's a specific circumstance involving a U.S. service member who we needed to get back," Obama said in the interview. "The point I'm making, though, that there are a number of individuals who've been released in the past in Guantanamo who are not the kind of people that you and I would consider friends of the United States of America.
"But by definition, if we, in fact, are ending a war, then there's going to be a process in which some of those individuals are going to be released."
Obama did the interview while traveling in Europe.