US soldier Bowe Bergdahl freed by Taliban after five years in prisoner swap
Five prisoners released in return under a deal brokered by Qatar
The only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed and is back in US custody after nearly five years of captivity, US officials said yesterday.
The officials said the Taliban agreed to turn over Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The transfers happened after a week of intense negotiations mediated by the government of Qatar, which will take custody of the Afghans.
In a statement, US President Barack Obama said Bergdahl's recovery "is a reminder of America's unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield".
"Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years," said Obama.
"On behalf of the American people, I was honoured to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal."
Officials said the Taliban turned over the 28-year-old Bergdahl yesterday evening in Afghanistan. Several dozen US special forces soldiers were involved in the exchange, which took place in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to describe the details of his release. Bergdahl was to be transferred to Bagram Air Field, the main US base in Afghanistan, then on to the United States.
Officials said Obama spoke to Bergdahl's parents yesterday, shortly after their son had been taken into US custody.
Bergdahl's family was in Washington on a previously scheduled visit when they received the news.
The five Afghan detainees were still at Guantanamo yesterday, but were being transferred into the custody of Qatari officials. Under the conditions of their release, the detainees will be banned from travelling outside Qatar for at least a year.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, had been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009.
At this year's Grammys, celebrities were photographed wearing Bowe bracelets. In the past two years, billboards with Bergdahl's face have popped up in key US cities. But in 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted e-mails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with the US mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in his army's mission there and was considering desertion. He told his parents he was "ashamed to even be American", the magazine story said.
The e-mails were not independently authenticated. Bergdahl's family did not comment on the allegations.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse