Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war from the Afghan war who has been held captive for nearly five years, has been freed and is now in U.S. custody, President Barack Obama said Saturday.
U.S. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said Bergdahl’s release came as part of a negotiation that included the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Hagel said those five detainees were being transferred to Qatar, and he said their release would not compromise the U.S.’s national security.
The 28-year-old Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, had been held captive by the Taliban since June 2009. He is able to walk and in “good health,” a senior Obama administration official said.
Obama and Hagel both said the negotiation between the U.S. and Taliban was aided by the government of Qatar, and they both thanked the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Khalifa Al Thani.
Obama said in a statement that he was “honored” to call Bergdahl’s parents to tell them the news. He said Bergdahl’s release served as a solemn reminder of the American troops from other wars who remain missing or unaccounted for.
“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 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 said.
“Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars. Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield. And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue.”
As the U.S. begins to wind down military operations in Afghanistan, the military had in recent months intensified its efforts to free Bergdahl. The first video of him in three years came to light in January, showing him in what appeared to be deteriorating health.
Bergdahl was first captured after completing a guard shift at a combat outpost. U.S. negotiations with the Taliban began in November 2010, a senior Obama administration official said. Several weeks ago, the official said, an opportunity arose to resume talks, which the U.S. “seized on.”
“This was an opportunity that only recently became possible,” the official said.
Shortly after Bergdahl was handed over to American forces on Saturday, according to the New York Times, he wrote on a paper plate to ask if he was with U.S. special forces.
“Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time,” one soldier yelled back, which left Bergdahl in tears.
Bergdahl’s parents also released a statement on their son’s release, saying they “cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son.”
“We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home!” Bob and Jani Bergdahl said.
Added Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey in a statement” “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.”
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