WASHINGTON (AP) — Right up until the moment Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed, U.S. officials weren't sure the Taliban would really release the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan in exchange for high-level militants detained at Guantanamo Bay.
It was touch and go. But then came the call at 5:12 p.m. Saturday on a secure phone line at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar. U.S. negotiators learned that Bergdahl, a 28-year-old from Hailey, Idaho, held by the Taliban for nearly five years, was aboard a Delta Force helicopter bound for a U.S. base north of Kabul.
Bergdahl's release has hardly been a straightforward yellow-ribbon moment for the U.S. Bergdahl apparently was disillusioned with the war and left his post. He was found unarmed, wandering in Paktika province in Afghanistan, when the Taliban detained him in 2009, provincial police chief Nabi Jan Mhullhakhil said Monday. The decision to free him in exchange for five top Taliban officials who have been held in the U.S. detention center in Cuba has raised questions about whether such a swap was too big a concession to make.
According to a State Department official directly involved in the negotiations in Doha, U.S. officials who had holed up in the embassy for three straight days thought the final days of negotiations with the Taliban's political leadership, through Qatari intermediaries, had gone pretty smoothly. The U.S. had gotten the Taliban to agree that the five detainees would be prohibited from traveling outside Qatar for a year after their release — something the Taliban earlier had opposed. In return, the U.S. agreed to release all five detainees at once, not one or two at a time as previously offered, in an effort to get Bergdahl back more quickly.