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Only American POW in Afghanistan freed today in Taliban exchange

Published: Sat, May 31, 2014 @ 5:52 p.m.


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.

In a statement, 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."

The White House says the president will deliver a statement from the Rose Garden at 6:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

The 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.

According to a senior defense official traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Singapore, once Bergdahl climbed onto the noisy helicopter he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, the "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 transferred to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for medical evaluations. A defense official said he would be sent to Germany for additional care before eventually returning to the United States.

The defense 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.

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