Barack Obama under fire for secret Taliban talks to free soldier Bowe Bergdahl

 

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel today congratulated the US personnel who had worked to release a soldier held prisoner by the Afghan Taliban for almost five years.

On Saturday, 28-year-old Bowe Bergdahl was freed, without a shot being fired, as part of a prisoner swap which also saw five senior Taliban officials released from Guantanamo Bay by the US. Meeting with some of the Special Forces involved in Sergeant Berghdal’s release at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Mr Hagel said that once the exchange had been agreed, the team had acted fast, “essentially to save [Bergdahl’s] life.”

According to the BBC, Taliban leaders and US negotiators first met to discuss Sergeant Bergdahl’s return three years ago in Qatar, but talks stalled when the Americans pressed the other side to engage in a broader peace process. Angered by the Taliban opening a political office in Qatar in 2013, the Afghan government in Kabul tried to halt the negotiations, which continued in secret with the Qataris acting as mediators. Afghan President Hamid Karzai was reportedly informed of the prisoner swap only after Sergeant Bergdahl and the five Guantanamo detainees had been released.

The five Afghan men were flown from Cuba to Qatar, and will be banned from leaving the emirate for at least one year. President Barack Obama said Qatar had promised to “put in place measures to protect our national security.” Meanwhile, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar released a statement celebrating their release, saying: “I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahideen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory regarding the release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo prison.”

In Washington, several Republicans criticised President Obama and the Pentagon, saying they had violated US law by failing to give Congress the requisite 30 days’ notice before releasing inmates from Guantanamo. The former GOP Presidential candidate Senator John McCain welcomed Sergeant Bergdahl’s release, but described the freed Taliban detainees as “hardened terrorists” with “the blood of Americans on their hands."

Private First Class(Pfc) Bowe Bergdahl, before his capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bergdahl went missing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009

Mr Obama reportedly telephoned Sergeant Bergdahl’s parents early on Saturday morning to tell them that their son had been released. During a White House press conference with Robert and Jani Bergdahl, Mr Obama insisted, “While Sergeant Bergdahl was gone, he was never forgotten.” The couple said they were “joyful and relieved” to hear that their son had been freed. Mr Bergdahl appeared sporting the long, unruly beard that he began growing after his son was captured in 2009.

Sergeant Bergdahl is now undergoing medical treatment at a US military base in Germany, but is in contact with his family via telephone and video. His parents said he found speaking English difficult after spending so long in captivity.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Mr Bergdahl said he hadn’t talked to his son personally since his release, but that Sgt Bergdahl’s recovery was “a work in process”. Mr Bergdahl said: “Someday, there will be a time for interviews and books and whatever, and I have a lot to say and I know Bowe is going to have a lot to say about this -- but that’s still a distant future thing and I won't let things get in the way of Bowe’s recovery.” Weeping openly, he told his son, “I’m so proud of how far you were able to go to help the Afghan people and I think you have succeeded.”

There is speculation that Sgt Bergdahl had become disillusioned with the US military’s activities in Afghanistan, and that he deliberately walked away from his post, but US officials have said he is unlikely to face desertion charges.

US President Barack Obama (C), with the parents of US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl

Originally from the small town of Hailey in Idaho, Sergeant Bergdahl was part of an infantry regiment posted to Afghanistan’s Paktika province in May 2009. He went missing close to the Pakistani border on 30 June, and the US believes he was kept in Pakistan for most of the last five years. He was returned to US forces near the border town of Khost on Saturday evening, when a large Special Forces team arrived by helicopter to make the handover with around 18 Taliban militants. “No shots were fired,” Mr Hagel said. “It went as well as it could have.”

After the helicopter lifted off, Mr Bergdahl was said to be unable to make himself heard above the noise, so he scrawled the message “SF?” – meaning Special Forces – on a paper plate. He broke down in tears as the men nodded and told him, “We’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...