WASHINGTON, May 31, 2014 — The White House announced today that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American Prisoner of War in Afghanistan, has been freed by the Taliban after almost five years.
According to the statement from the White House, the release is “a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”
Officials reported that the Taliban agreed to release Sgt. Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, in exchange for the release of five Afghan’s currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The deal has been in the works for over a year, but hit numerous snags. Last February, the Taliban officially “suspended” talks concerning trading Bergdahl for the Afghan prisoners because of the “complex political situation” in Afghanistan.
Additionally, some members of Congress opposed the deal. One of the prisoners being released from Guantanamo was reportedly a high-ranking official in the Taliban government when it ruled Afghanistan and had direct links to Osama bin Laden.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, himself a former POW, was one who questioned the wisdom of negotiating with the Taliban.
The government of Qatar reportedly mediated the release, and in the White House statement, Washington thanked the Amir of Qatar for his “…personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries.”
Washington also expressed gratitude to the Government of Afghanistan for its support in assisting with the release.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009, and was the only American currently held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan. In December 2013, the Taliban released a “proof of life” video for Bergdahl, demonstrating that he was alive.
Officials said Bergdahl was likely held by the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate located in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The group is allied with the Afghan Taliban, but has its own hierarchy and operates somewhat independently.
There have also been widespread reports that the Haqqani network operates with at least tacit support of the Pakistan Intelligence Service.
In late April, the Taliban told U.S. officials it was willing to release Bergdahl, but said it was “unclear” which U.S. government officials have the authority to make a deal.
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The Taliban stated on several social media sites and to several officials that it wanted to return Bergdahl, and that the group was in complete agreement about his release, but was unsure who to contact concerning his return.
At that time, some in the government blamed lack of coordination and communication among federal agencies for inability to secure Bergdahl’s release.
Bergdahl was officially turned over to U.S. personnel on Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said he was in good condition and was able to walk unassisted.
The release is likely to further increase pressure on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from the Obama administration to transfer low-level Guantanamo Bay detainees to Uruguay, as part of Washington’s plan to close the U.S. prison in Cuba.
President Obama recently reiterated his determination to close Guantanamo, telling NPR, “We cannot in good conscience maintain a system of indefinite detention in which individuals who have not been tried and convicted are held permanently in this legal limbo outside of this country.”