WASHINGTON: An American army soldier, held for nearly five years by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, has been released and is now in US custody, US President Barack Obama said on Saturday.
As part of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's release, the United States is turning over five Taliban detainees at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of Qatar, US officials said.
Bergdahl’s freedom follows months of indirect US-Taliban talks with Qatar acting as intermediary, the officials said.
US special operations forces took custody of Bergdahl in a non-violent exchange in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said, adding that he was believed to be in good condition.
Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, was the only known missing US soldier in the Afghan war. He was captured under unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan by militants on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country.
“Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years,” Obama said in a statement.
“On behalf of the American people, I was honored 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 thanked Qatar for its role in Bergdahl’s release, as well as the Afghan government.—Reuters
AFP adds: Obama's announcement came as Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel released a statement saying he had informed the US Congress of a decision to transfer five Guantanamo detainees 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.
He also thanked the Emir of Qatar, praising him for his “instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.”
A senior administration official confirmed that, in connection with Bergdahl's return, the United States had transferred five Afghan Guantanamo detainees to Qatar.
Since his capture, Bergdahl has appeared in several Taliban videos.
In January, the United States obtained a “proof of life” video of the soldier — the first concrete evidence in more than three years that he was still alive.