Soldier’s family reveals prisoner trade secretly discussed by U.S. and Taliban

Jeff Stacklin

The parents of a soldier taken prisoner three years ago in Afghanistan have gone public with attempts of the government to negotiate his return in exchange for U.S.-held Taliban prisoners.

Now, Bob and Jani Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, say they are becoming frustrated with the U.S. negotiations to free their 26-year-old son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, according to the Associated Press. The soldier was captured in June 2009 and is believed held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, probably somewhere in Pakistan.

Sgt. Bergdahl is the subject of a proposed prisoner swap in which the Obama administration would allow the transfer of five Taliban prisoners long held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to the AP.

The Obama administration had worked out a framework deal to send those prisoners to Qatar, where they would be under some form of loose house arrest or supervision, while Sgt. Bergdahl would be returned to the U.S. military.

In an interview with the Idaho Weekly Express, Bob Bergdahl revealed his frustrations with the process, and he and his wife now are pushing the White House and Pentagon to follow through with the prisoner swap for their son.

"I'm pushing it hard," Bob Bergdahl said in the interview. "We started out by trying to encourage the Taliban to take care of our son. ... Now, we're worried that the government isn't concerned enough to put him on the (negotiating) table."

Bob Bergdahl said that he believes the prisoner swap would benefit the United States, not only because his son would return, but also because it would foster a more positive U.S. image with the Afghan people.

Various media outlets, including the AP and the Washington Post, acknowledged that they were aware of the negotiations and proposed prisoner swap, but chose not to report them at the request of the White House and Pentagon, which had expressed concerns Sgt. Bergdahl might be killed if details became public.

The deal for Sgt. Bergdahl's return has been stalled for several months and, according to the AP, faces serious opposition in Congress if it ever gets off the ground. The Taliban walked away from talks in March, and the Obama administration is trying to restart talks by offering looser terms for the detention or monitoring of at least one of the prisoners upon release, the AP reported.

Meantime, a senior U.S. military official told the Washington Post that the threat to Sgt. Bergdahl's life remains.

"I think it would be safe to assume that if he's being kept against his will, there's got to be a pointy end to that stick," said the official, whose remarks were arranged by the Pentagon on the condition that the official not be named. "We're not talking about real nice guys out there who are willing to let Sgt. Bergdahl walk."

The newspaper's source added, "We do believe him to be alive ... We do believe him to be in fairly good health."

Sgt. Bergdahl's release has been the topic of several direct meetings between the United States and the Taliban, the AP reported. The secret talks began last year, in hopes they could  speed talks with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and ultimately end the long Taliban insurgency.

Marine Col. David Lapan, spokesman for Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Sgt. Bergdahl's family has been given quarterly updates and that "We are working hard to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl's release," the AP reported.

When asked about the family's frustrations with negotiations, Lapan said, "It's perfectly understandable that parents whose son has been kept in captivity for several years now are frustrated. We certainly understand that. That's why we do everything thing we can to try to keep them updated, to the extent we can."

He added, "I would say that our leaders are frustrated as well."

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