U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl watches as one of his
captors display his identity tag to the camera at an
unknown location in Afghanistan in this 2009 file image
taken from video. Photo by Reuters
The last U.S. prisoner of war from America's waning Afgan
war, has been handed over to U.S. Special Operations forces in
Afghanistan in a dramatic swap for five Taliban detainees who
will be handed over from Guantanamo Bay prison to Qatar.
Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had been held for nearly five
years by Afghan militants and his release followed years of
President Barack Obama announced the release, saying he had
called Bergdahl's parents to let them know.
U.S. special forces took custody of Bergdahl in a non-violent
exchange with 18 Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan,
senior U.S. officials said, adding that he was believed to be
in good condition. He was now undergoing a medical
examination in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl, 28, was handed over at about 6 p.m. local time on
Saturday, which was at 10:30 a.m. Washington time, a senior
official said. The U.S. forces, who had flown in by
helicopter, were on the ground only briefly, said the
officials, who would not specify the precise location of the
A U.S. defence official said Bergdahl was able to walk and
became emotional on his way to freedom.
"Once the was on the helicopter, he wrote on a paper plate,
'SF?'" the official said, referring to the abbreviation for
"The operators replied loudly, 'Yes, we've been looking for
you for a long time.' And at this point, Sergeant Bergdahl
Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, was the only known missing U.S.
soldier in the Afghan war that was launched soon after the
Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to dislodge the
Taliban - accused of sheltering al Qaeda militants - from
He was captured under unknown circumstances in eastern
Afghanistan by militants on June 30, 2009, about two months
after arriving in the country.
Bergdahl's release could be a national security boost for
Obama, whose foreign policy has come under widespread
criticism in recent months.
But some members of Congress have in the past criticized the
potential release of the five Taliban detainees, particularly
Mohammed Fazl, a so-called "high-risk" detainee held at
Guantanamo prison since early 2002. Fazl is alleged to be
responsible for the killing of thousands of Afghanistan's
minority Shiite Muslims between 1998 and 2001.
U.S. officials referred to the release of the Taliban
detainees from Guantanamo as a transfer, noting they would be
subject to certain restrictions in Qatar.
As of mid-day Saturday in Washington, the five had not yet
left for Qatar, one senior official said.
Bergdahl's freedom followed a renewed round of indirect
U.S.-Taliban talks in recent months, with Qatar acting as
intermediary, the officials said. It also came just days
after an other step in the winding down of the war.
Obama announced this week that he would keep 9,800 U.S.
troops in Afghanistan, mostly to train Afghan forces, after
NATO combat operations cease at the end of 2014. The last
soldiers, aside from a small presence at U.S. diplomatic
posts, will leave at the end of 2016.
"Today the American people are pleased that we will be able
to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for
nearly five years," Obama said in a statement.
"On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his
parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe
return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout
FAMILY, HOMETOWN CELEBRATE
The Bergdahl family was in Washington when news of the
release broke, a senior U.S. defense official said, without
"We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called
us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming
home!" Bob and Jami Bergdahl said in a statement released
through the Idaho National Guard. "We cannot wait to wrap our
arms around our only son."
It was not yet known when he would be coming back to the
United States. But in his hometown, Hailey, Idaho, news of
the release prompted celebration.
"Once we heard about it. We were pretty excited," said
17-year-old Real Weatherly, who was making signs Saturday
morning and blowing up balloons to hang outside the shop
where she works. "We want to let people know he's free. "
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, traveling in Asia, said in a
statement that Bergdahl would be given "all the support he
needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are
grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family."
The Afghan Taliban on Saturday confirmed it had freed
"This is true. After several rounds of talks for prisoners'
swap, we freed US soldier and our dear guest in exchange of
five commanders held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002," a senior
Taliban commander said.
Declining to be identified, he said talks for the prisoners'
release had been going on for the past several weeks.
The Taliban commander said Bergdahl had mostly been held in
the tribal areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan after what
he termed his "dramatic" kidnapping from Afghanistan's
Paktika province in June 2009.
Reuters first reported the potential deal involving the five
Taliban detainees in December 2011.
Bergdahl's eventual release was the result of years of
complex, frustrating negotiations that a senior U.S.
official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said revived
last November when the Taliban signaled it wanted to resume
talks on prisoners.
But it was unclear why the Taliban moved now to conclude a
deal that Washington had been seeking for years.
"Several weeks ago, an opportunity arose to resume talks on
Sgt. Bergdahl, and we seized it," one senior U.S. official
said. "This was an opportunity that only recenly became
While U.S. and Taliban envoys have met directly in the past,
there were no direct U.S.-Taliban contacts during the most
recent negotiations, U.S. officials said. Messages were past
via Qatari officials.
The final stage of negotiations, which took place in the
Qatari capital of Doha, began one week ago, the U.S.
officials said. Obama and Qatar's emir spoke on Tuesday and
reaffirmed the security conditions under which the Taliban
members would be placed while in Qatari custody, they said.
One of the senior U.S. officials said those conditions would
include a minimum one-year ban on them traveling outside of
Qatar as well as monitoring of their activities.