The Obama administration has renewed talks with the Taliban to make a deal to release an American Prisoner of War being held in Pakistan in exchange for five Taliban members held in Guantanamo Bay. The Taliban offered the U.S. the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009. The Taliban took credit for the capture and initially offered a deal for Bergdahl in exchange for $21 million along with 21 Afghan prisoners, but the group eventually broke off the negotiations.
Officials from the Obama administration, the Pentagon, and the State Department have reportedly decided to accept the exchange, although no official agreement has been made. The talks continued last month after officials at the Pentagon received video of Bergdahl, who is now 27-years-old, looking in poorer health than he had in previous videos sent from the Taliban. It was the first evidence that Bergdahl was alive in nearly three years. The administration intends to free Bergdahl before the bulk of the armed forces leaves Afghanistan in the next year.
Bergdahl, an Army infantryman, was taken captive after wandering off base in the Paktika Province in Afghanistan. The Taliban claim they captured him after he drunkenly stumbled out of his garrison. Rolling Stone ran an article in 2012 that featured Bergdahl and certain aspects of his story raised the question of whether he was captured or abandoned his post.
“If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan,” Bergdahl told former Specialist Jason Fry.
In the last email Bergdahl sent to his parents before being captured, he wrote that life is too short to spend helping fools with their ideas that are wrong and that he was ashamed to be an American.
The article called into question his loyalty to the U.S. but officials are focused on bringing him home safely. The Pentagon’s press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said that Bergdahl has been gone too long and the government has not stopped trying to get him home.
Last year, the Taliban offered a deal to the U.S. in which they would release Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, but President Obama refused based on the U.S.’s longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Since there is no concrete evidence of Bergdahl’s location, there is no plan for a rescue mission. But officials believe Bergdahl is being held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network.
The Pentagon has considered negotiating the terms of Bergdahl’s release directly with the Haqqani network, which falls under the Taliban insurgency but operates separately. The U.S. holds a number of Haqqani prisoners in Afghanistan.
The renewed talks come amid an issue the administration has with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has refused to sign a security pact with the U.S. that would allow some military forces to remain in Afghanistan. Without the agreement, the U.S. will have no presence in Afghanistan, which will reduce its leverage with the Taliban.
Despite the Taliban’s offer to the U.S. to release a POW, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, has publicly stated that he doubts the Taliban are ready to make the deal.
By David Tulis