US soldier freed by Taliban in swap for Guantanamo prisoners

June 1, 2014 | By | Reply More

June 01, – The lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, captured by insurgents nearly five years ago, has been released to American forces in exchange for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Obama administration officials said Saturday.

hromedia US soldier freed by Taliban in swap for Guantanamo prisoners intl. news3The soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed over to American Special Operations troops inside Afghanistan near the Pakistan border about 10:30 a.m. Saturday in a tense but uneventful exchange with 18 Taliban officials, American officials said. Moments later, Sergeant Bergdahl was whisked away by the helicopter-borne commandos, American officials said. He was described in good physical condition.

The five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, including two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, were flown from Cuba in the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state. They will be subject to security restrictions there, including a one-year travel ban.

Senior administration officials cautioned that the discussions over the prisoner swap, which were secretly restarted last fall after collapsing several months earlier, did not necessarily presage the resumption of the broader, on-again-off-again peace talks to end the 13-year war.

“This is the only issue we’ve discussed with the Taliban in recent months,” said one senior Obama administration official involved in the talks. “We do hope that having succeeded in this narrow but important step, it will create the possibility of expanding the dialogue to other issues. But we don’t have any promises to that effect.”

But word of renewed, secret negotiations with the Taliban brought immediate criticism from some lawmakers, including Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “I have little confidence in the security assurances regarding the movement and activities of the now-released Taliban leaders, and I have even less confidence in this administration’s willingness to ensure they are enforced,” he said. “I believe this decision will threaten the lives of American soldiers for years to come.”

A Western official in Kabul said the Afghan government was not told ahead of time that the Taliban were going to hand over Sergeant Bergdahl or that the release of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay was proceeding, though the Afghans were broadly aware that the talks had been rekindled. American officials feared leaks could scuttle the deal.

President Obama personally called the soldier’s parents on Saturday, shortly after Sergeant Bergdahl was transferred to the American military; the Bergdahl family was in Washington after a visit here for Memorial Day, officials said.

Later on Saturday in the White House Rose Garden, Mr. Obama, flanked by Robert and Jani Bergdahl, the sergeant’s parents, said, “Right now, our top priority is making sure that Bowe gets the care and support that he needs, and that he can be reunited with his family as soon as possible.”

The Bergdahls, who have waged a tireless campaign for their son’s release, have sometimes criticized the Obama administration for lack of action. But at the impromptu Rose Garden appearance and in a statement released earlier in the day, they praised the American and Qatari governments for their help. “We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son,” they said in the statement. “Today, we are ecstatic!”

Family and friends in the Bergdahl family’s hometown, Hailey, Idaho, said they were planning a celebration on Sunday. A senior Defense Department official said on Sunday morning that Sergeant Bergdahl had arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. A military official said he would then be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, when doctors felt he was fit to travel. Sergeant Bergdahl is expected to reunite with his family in the United States, the official said.

Press journalist for HRO media – Debi Campillos contributed to this report.

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Category: International

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