US soldier released by Taliban after nearly 5 years

US soldier released by Taliban after nearly 5 years

An American soldier held for nearly half a decade in Afghanistan has been freed from Taliban captivity in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, US officials said today.

US President Barack Obama announced that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years, has been released and thanked Qatar for this breakthrough while the Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel informed the Congress about the transfer of Gitmo detainees; a long pending demand of the Taliban.

The deal was brokered by the government of Qatar, which has agreed to host the five Taliban inmates in the Gulf emirate for at least one year.

"Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years. 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," Obama said.

"For his assistance in helping to secure our soldier's return, I extend my deepest appreciation to the Amir of Qatar. ..The United States is also grateful for the support of the Government of Afghanistan throughout our efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl's release," said the US President.

Obama said this week the US renewed its commitment to the Afghan people and made clear that it will continue to support them as their chart their own future.

"While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground," Obama said.

Bergdahl, who was believed to be in the custody of the Haqqani network, a hard-line faction of the Taliban, was handed over peacefully to a team of Special Operations troops in an unspecified location in Afghanistan, US officials said.

The soldier went missing after walking off his base in June 2009. Hagel said Bergdahl is now under the care of the US military.

"We will give him 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," he said.

"Also today, I informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar. The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised," Hagel said.

Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to brief him on this development.

"It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home SGT Bowe Bergdahl," said General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

The transfer of five detainees from the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center in lieu of the American soldier is part of the broader reconciliation framework, a senior administration official said.

"By conducting successful indirect talks with the Taliban’s political commission, this transfer was a part of a broader reconciliation framework," senior administration official said.

Simultaneously, the US also transferred five Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center to Qatar.

"We appreciate the cooperation of the Government of Qatar in supporting the recovery of Sgt Bergdahl," the official said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the senior administration official said US efforts to facilitate reconciliation with the Taliban began in November 2010, and since May 2011 the recovery of Sgt Bergdahl has been a central element of their reconciliation efforts.

For all that time, American efforts have been coordinated at the highest levels of the US government, the official said.

"Several weeks ago, an opportunity arose to resume talks on Sgt Bergdahl, and we seized it. This was an opportunity that only recently became possible. With the personal commitment of the Amir of Qatar, with whom the President spoke on Tuesday, we were thankfully able to obtain Sgt Bergdahl's release," the senior administration official said.

"The five detainees transferred are in the custody and under control of Qatar and will be subject to restrictions on their movement and activities," the official added.

"As the Administration has repeatedly affirmed, we will not transfer any detainee from Guantanamo unless the threat the detainee may pose to the United States can be sufficiently mitigated and only when consistent with our humane treatment policy," said the senior administration official. 

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