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U.S. soldier freed from captivity in Afghanistan

By Julie Pace & Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:55 p.m. HST, May 31, 2014


WASHINGTON >> The only American soldier held prisoner in Afghanistan has been freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama administration officials said Saturday.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. special operations forces by the Taliban Saturday evening, local time, in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.

"While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten," President Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by Bergdahl's parents. "The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind."

Bergdahl's handover followed indirect negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, with the government of Qatar serving as the go-between. Qatar is taking custody of the five Afghan detainees who were held at Guantanamo.

Several dozen U.S. special operations forces, backed by multiple helicopters and surveillance aircraft, flew into Afghanistan by helicopter and made the transfer with the approximately 18 Taliban members. Officials said the commandos were on the ground for a short time before lifting off with Bergdahl.

According to a senior defense official, once Bergdahl climbed onto the noisy helicopter, he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, "SF?" -- asking the troops if they were special operations forces.

They shouted back at him over the roar of the rotors: "Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time."

Then, according to the official, Bergdahl broke down.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, is believed to have been held by the Haqqani network since June 30, 2009. Haqqani operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war.

The network, which the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some degree of autonomy.

Officials said Bergdahl was initially taken to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for medical evaluations, and was being transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a military facility in Germany, for additional care before he returns to the United States.

The official said Bergdhal was tentatively scheduled to go to the San Antonio Military Medical Center where he would be reunited with his family. The military was working Saturday to connect Bergdahl with his family over the telephone or by video conference.

The U.S. believes Bergdahl was held for the bulk of his captivity time in Pakistan, but officials said it was not clear when he was transported to eastern Afghanistan.

All of the officials insisted on anonymity in order to discuss details of Bergdahl's transfer.

Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani, had been in Washington on a previously scheduled visit when they received a call Saturday from Obama informing them that their son had been freed.

As they stood with Obama in the Rose Garden hours after their son's release, Bob Bergdahl, who grew a long, thick beard to honor his son, said Bowe Bergdahl was having trouble speaking English after his rescue. The elder Bergdahl had worked to learn Pashto, the language spoken by his son's captors, and delivered him a message in that language.

Switching back to English, he said "the complicated nature of this recovery will never really be comprehended."

The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could be charged with being absent without leave (AWOL) or desertion.

In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America's mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army's mission there and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was "ashamed to even be American."

The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.

Were Bergdahl to be charged with desertion, the maximum penalty he would face is five years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, if it's proven that he deserted with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service. A case of AWOL, ended by the U.S. apprehending him, would not require proof that he intended to remain away permanently. The maximum punishment for that would be a dishonorable discharge and 18 months' confinement, according to military justice experts.

The U.S. has long been seeking Bergdahl's release, but there was renewed interest in his release as Obama finalized plans to pull nearly all American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

Officials said the Taliban signaled to the U.S. in November that they were ready to start new talks on the issue of detainees. After the U.S. received proof that Bergdahl was still alive, indirect talks began, with Qatar sending messages back and forth between the two parties.

The talks intensified about a week ago, officials said, resulting in Bergdahl's release and the transfer of the Afghan detainees.

The five Guantanamo detainees departed the base on a U.S. military aircraft Saturday afternoon. Under the conditions of their release, the detainees will be banned from traveling outside of Qatar for at least one year.

Obama and the emir of Qatar spoke last week about the conditions of the release, which have been codified in a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, officials said.

The administration is legally required to notify Congress in advance about plans to release Guantanamo detainees. An administration official said lawmakers were notified only after U.S. officials knew they had Bergdahl, but before the transfers took place.

Two Republican lawmakers said Obama violated U.S. laws when he approved the exchange. Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California and Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said the law required Obama to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In response, the White House said that officials considered what they called "unique and exigent circumstances" and decided to go ahead with the transfer in spite of the legal requirement.

The detainees are among the most senior Afghans still held at the prison. They are:

--Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence

--Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001

--Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden

--Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul

--Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.

Taliban and Afghan officials could not be reached for comment. In Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said her government was "not aware of" Bergdahl's release or the negotiations leading up to it. She declined to comment further.

Baldor reported from Singapore. Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Darlene Superville in Washington, Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.







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Oahuan wrote:
I thought America never negotiate with terrorist? Oh wait, Obama. never mind.
on May 31,2014 | 07:57AM
8082062424 wrote:
well said
on May 31,2014 | 08:02AM
pcman wrote:
IRT Oahuan and 808. This is wrong. US military personnel know that if they are captured, they must escape or wait until the end of the war. If negotiations were done, it should not have been publicized. This places a greater burden on parents and loved ones of captured American soldiers to press the President to do something to get their children back.
on May 31,2014 | 09:51AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Oahuan: "never mind". .............. Reagan did it.
on May 31,2014 | 02:06PM
serious wrote:
Yes, he is not up for reelection. Seems that everyday another scandal or campaign promise broken. I'll bet the D's up for reelection are running for cover.
on June 1,2014 | 09:20AM
el_burro_sabio wrote:
And if that was your son or brother....
on May 31,2014 | 08:27AM
sailfish1 wrote:
When a person joins the military, the family must acknowledge that he may be killed, wounded, taken prisoner, etc. If you think one man, son or brother, is more important than the war/mission, then don't let him join the military.
on May 31,2014 | 10:06AM
Eradication wrote:
You're being untruthful. He is not your family so it is easy for you to lie about how you feel. The U.S. negotiated with the NVN for the release of POW' s so it isn't like this is the first time this has been done. Stop searching for reasons to be ignorant and make ignorant comments.
on May 31,2014 | 12:35PM
Oahuan wrote:
One is a prisoner of war the other is captured by a group of terrorist. US has a stance NEVER to negotiate with terrorist.
on May 31,2014 | 01:16PM
Eradication wrote:
Are we not at war? Didn't your pal GDubyah declare it a war?
on May 31,2014 | 04:28PM
el_burro_sabio wrote:
Yeah right, we were going to prevent two adult sons from enlisting. I hope you never have to send your kids to war.
on May 31,2014 | 10:50PM
Oahuan wrote:
And what about all the other son or brother before him?
on May 31,2014 | 01:13PM
8082062424 wrote:
what about all the brothers and sons these 5 killed. and the way Obama did it . seem like Obama does not follow any rules or laws and make up his own to serve his own need. the fact these 5 are free to start causing terror again says it all
on May 31,2014 | 03:00PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
I think it hinges on whether he was a deserter or not when it comes to whether the trade was worth it. The five terrorists released almost certainly will go on to kill Americans or attack our interests when the opportunity presents itself.
on May 31,2014 | 07:54PM
monkseal2 wrote:
your dumb just because their terrorist and if he's you're brother you would of wanted him back irregardless, and its because you're family is comprised of your brother. Stupid comments deserve a stupid reply.
on May 31,2014 | 09:20AM
sailfish1 wrote:
If you don't want your brother to get killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, don't let him join the military. Do you know what people in the military do?
on May 31,2014 | 10:14AM
Beaglebagels wrote:
Yes, Reagen never would have negotiated for the release of hostages. Except for that Iran Contra episode.
on May 31,2014 | 09:44AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"The Iran Arms for Hostages" deal. .... And the deal was, the hostages were NOT to be released until AFTER 1980 Presidential elections. And if Reagan should win, they were NOT to be released until after Reagan was sworn in.
on May 31,2014 | 10:54AM
Beaglebagels wrote:
That is true. I was referring to the Iran-Contra dealings which occurred in Reagan's second term, where we sold arms to Iran to secure the release of Americans held hostages in Lebanon. The arms were moved through Israel and the proceeds funded anti-communists fighters in Nicaragua. President Reagan seemed willing and able to deal with the Iranians. I think the idea that "America doesn't negotiate with terrorists.", makes for good movies but is completely false.
on May 31,2014 | 12:17PM
Eradication wrote:
If it was your son you would be singing a different tune I bet. And yet you are so politically jaded you would have wanted your son held captive so you could continue your rantings against the POTUS and why he left your son behind.
on May 31,2014 | 12:28PM
Oahuan wrote:
And what about all the sons before him that died in captivity? Explain that to his parents what makes this soldier different from all the others. Explain why the US couldn't, wouldn't and didn't negotiate for their son's release?
on May 31,2014 | 01:20PM
Eradication wrote:
Which POW' s are you referring to?
on May 31,2014 | 04:31PM
aomohoa wrote:
You've got a good point . It's a difficult situation with many emotions involved.
on May 31,2014 | 06:28PM
peanutgallery wrote:
OneBigAssMistakeAmerica
on May 31,2014 | 04:45PM
bsdetection wrote:
In violation of the arms embargo and over the strong the objections of his Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State, Ronald Reagan traded 1,500 missiles to Iran in exchange for 3 hostages. Oh wait. Reagan. BIG never mind.
on May 31,2014 | 09:16PM
bsdetection wrote:
In violation of the arms embargo and over the strong objections of his Secretaries of Defense and State, Reagan traded 1,500 missiles to Iran to release 3 hostages.
on May 31,2014 | 09:52PM
Bothrops wrote:
Whatever the backstory, "welcome home Sergeant".
on May 31,2014 | 08:10AM
wato wrote:
Bothrops, you are the only one who appreciates the point of this story. At least YOU get it.
on May 31,2014 | 12:51PM
Bothrops wrote:
Thank you sir, I remember Vietnam and no one was there to welcome our kids home.
on May 31,2014 | 10:36PM
kukunaokala wrote:
Obamaʻs decision to negotiate just put more Americans in danger! He needs to have a serious History lessons!
on May 31,2014 | 08:13AM
bsdetection wrote:
Obama needs a history lesson because he might have put Americans in danger? Here's a history lesson: Bush and the neo-cons started a war of choice, based on fabricated evidence, that killed more than 4,000 Americans and caused tens of thousands of casualties that will, over the next decades, cost trillions to care for. If you want to recommend history lessons, you might start with that. Sorry, I forgot that instead of investigating the Iraq War, it's more important to Republicans to investigate Benghazi for the seventh time.
on June 1,2014 | 06:39AM
samidunn wrote:
I thought Guantanamo was closed. Didn't Obama say six years ago he was going to close it?
on May 31,2014 | 08:43AM
hon2255 wrote:
Too many scumbag terrorists at the Cuban prison leave them there to rot.
on May 31,2014 | 08:56AM
aomohoa wrote:
And how do you know that they are all scumbags and terrorists? Sometimes people are detailed like this for years for no real good cause. Another one of Obama's promises that he did come follow though on.
on May 31,2014 | 05:08PM
palani wrote:
No, according to the White House press release dutifully reported in the SA article, the 5 released were detainees, not "terrorists".
on May 31,2014 | 06:26PM
hon2255 wrote:
Too many terrorist we can't let go. Unless you want them on Kahoolawe. Yeah put them there. Shark infested waters. Unexplored ordinance no escape !
on May 31,2014 | 08:58AM
samidunn wrote:
And don't forget to give them better healthcare than our veterans get.
on May 31,2014 | 11:46AM
d_bullfighter wrote:
I'd like to see Obama utter his no one left behind statement standing face-to-face with those families who lost their loved ones in Benghazi.
on May 31,2014 | 08:59AM
glenn57377 wrote:
Obama responded not unlike any other politician looking to project favor in his direction. He takes responsibility for what he perceives to be good things......while the other tragedies of his administration we live with everyday is someone else's fault.
on May 31,2014 | 10:01AM
Ronin006 wrote:
This is not a matter of negotiating with terrorists. Although the Taliban group that captured Sergeant Bergdahl was classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, it nevertheless was an armed enemy force at war with the United States. Thus, Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war and not a hostage. Prisoners of war have been exchanged for various reasons during most wars in which the United States has participated. The positive thing to be said about this exchange is that one American soldier is as good as five Taliban.
on May 31,2014 | 09:33AM
sailfish1 wrote:
What? The Taliban is "classified as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department" but is an "armed enemy force at war with the United States". Does your classification supersede that by the State Department? Are you the King of the U.S.?
on May 31,2014 | 10:23AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Are you saying the Taliban is not armed? Is not an enemy force? Is not at war with the US? Where have you been for the past 13 years? Yes, the particular Taliban organization that capture Bergdahl was classified as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, three years after Bergdahl was capture. The undeniable facts are that it was an armed enemy force at war with the US and that Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war..
on May 31,2014 | 12:32PM
glenn57377 wrote:
I do hope he did not walk away and desert his unit. I hope he did the best he could, under the circumstances, to follow the Code of Conduct taught to all American military. If he could not sustain the possible torture, I will not judge him. But, if he deserted, his family may be glad to see him, but I am not. I hope he comes home with honor and we can offer our complete respect to a hero. Time will tell. It's a little too early to roll out the red carpet......until then, we will have to give him the benefit of the doubt.
on May 31,2014 | 09:59AM
GorillaSmith wrote:
That's quite a serious aspersion to cast. Do you have any reason to believe he acted less than honorably?
on May 31,2014 | 03:43PM
mmorikawa wrote:
the article above gives reason
on May 31,2014 | 08:07PM
aomohoa wrote:
From anther source I read he was a deserter.
on May 31,2014 | 08:12PM
Bothrops wrote:
name source, besides Fox News?
on May 31,2014 | 10:34PM
MrMililani wrote:
Bad idea. Never negotiate.
on May 31,2014 | 10:54AM
Eradication wrote:
Unless it is your daughter or son, right?
on May 31,2014 | 12:38PM
peanutgallery wrote:
Every one of them knew that the United States does not negotiate This character in the white house has now made it clear more US soldiers will be killed. What a absolute loone.
on May 31,2014 | 04:53PM
kilipaki wrote:
Question....do we have a possible Manchurian candidate??? Just wondering if the guys in the five sided building will vet him out........
on May 31,2014 | 11:29AM
Eradication wrote:
You watch too much tv.....
on May 31,2014 | 12:39PM
Rickyboy wrote:
Makes you wonder...has he converted to Islam and his mental state in question. If not welcome home soldier.
on May 31,2014 | 12:23PM
krusha wrote:
Sounds like the US wants to eventually close down Gitmo anyway, so the real problem would be what to do with the prisoners currently held there.
on May 31,2014 | 03:08PM
Eradication wrote:
Welcome home Sergeant.
on May 31,2014 | 04:33PM
aomohoa wrote:
I am very happy for this shoulder and his family but I hope this type of negotiating doesn't have negative repercussions. What will their next demand be??
on May 31,2014 | 05:06PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I'm happy for his arm and elbow, too.
on June 1,2014 | 10:06AM
aomohoa wrote:
And you are the expert.
on May 31,2014 | 05:09PM
rayhawaii wrote:
Shows how important Americans are. 1 of us is worth more than 5 of you.
on May 31,2014 | 06:39PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Very funny. The other way to look at it is that those shifty, crafty Middle Easterners are much better at bargaining. We got 1 and they got 5.
on June 1,2014 | 10:06AM
aomohoa wrote:
There was a post on Facebook from someone who was there and knows this soldier. Seems he was a deserter. Something to think about.
on May 31,2014 | 06:42PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Wow, this may have been a colossal mistake.I hope we never live to regret releasing these 5 people. I can't believe our government finds it necessary to negotiate with terrorists that literally live in caves.
on May 31,2014 | 07:50PM
jussayin wrote:
Valid points by all. It's great that Sgt. Bergdahl was released. However, the release of 5 high level terrorists increases the threat to US here and abroad. Just as important, terrorists now know that the US is willing to negotiate if they have US personnel as prisoners. BTW, Obama quietly released 11 prisoners from Guantanamo a couple of months ago. I guess that's one way to close the facility.
on May 31,2014 | 11:08PM
stef wrote:
How much more clear can President Obama make it? He is on a mission to destroy our once great country. In his latest move, he trades five Taliban leaders for a US soldier. So he rebuilds leadership of an sworn to destroy us, while further endangering his military men and women -- now in more danger of being taken as bargaining chips -- now that this leader breaks our laws (which we've seen time and again) to suit his own purposes. It is unconscionable and frightening.
on June 1,2014 | 07:00AM
samidunn wrote:
The guy was a deserter! Walked away from his post with no weapon or armor.
on June 1,2014 | 08:28AM
fiveo wrote:
The prisoner exchange was a good idea and well worth it. During war, combatants being captured is always a possibility so doing an exchange does not increase the risk to other American soldiers as the risk and chance has always been there. Even Israel has made prisoner exchanges many times so people criticizing this exchange are way off base. Very glad this was done.
on June 1,2014 | 09:08AM
tommui wrote:
On the other hand, we should have sent in our troops to free the five-year old POW. We should have sent in troops to Bengazi and the Sudan = wops, the latter wasn't Americans! If the person imprisoned for a day or two days was a family member or someone that could influence votes, those GOP senators would demanded that the Rangers, Special Forces, SEALS be sent in immediately, not to mention the 82nd and 101st Divisions. And those throwing stones at President Obama - would your stance be different if it were George W? This is not a political issue - it becomes a humanitarian issue.
on June 1,2014 | 09:41AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
At least we can all agree that this whole show is a planned distraction from the debacle at the VA.
on June 1,2014 | 10:29AM
mitsuni wrote:
I am glad that this soldier is free....not sure what challenges he will face, but he is an American and he is now free to face his fate...that said, negotiating for his release is not a good standard to set..it places all Americans in danger, you just told the Taliban/Haqqani network and other terrorists that if they can capture an AMERICAN that we will cede to their demands eventually. That means that ANY AMERICAN traveling anywhere in teh world is potentially in danger of being taken against their will to be used as a bargaining chip. It was the wrong choice to make, it was against the law, and it just seems like once again OBAMA will do whatever OBAMA wants to do without a whole lot of thought or regard for our laws or the good of our nation. You have to wonder what his motivations are? Is it reeally only about winning votes to keeps the libs in power?
on June 2,2014 | 09:06AM
Harlots wrote:
All this fuss and the government can't be stuffed to rescue the marines held in those Mexican prisons
on June 6,2014 | 06:05AM
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