Taliban leaders announced Wednesday that they are prepared to release U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five senior Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Associated Press reported that the announcement came from a Taliban political office opened this week in Doha, Qatar, a modern city on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
The Taliban proposed the prisoner exchange as a first step in peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban that could end a 12-year conflict. The announcement of a proposed prisoner exchange came from Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail, who is based in Doha.
“After we finish the phase of talking to the Americans, then we would start the internal phase. ... That would include all Afghans. Having all groups involved will guarantee peace and stability,” Suhail said, according to the AP.
About 100,000 NATO combat troops, including about 60,000 U.S. troops, are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Hours after Suhail’s proposal, the Taliban took responsibility for an attack on Bagram Air Base, outside of Kabul, that killed four American service members.
Bergdhal, 27, was raised in Blaine County near Hailey. He disappeared from his base in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed to have been taken captive by Taliban soldiers. He is the only known U.S. serviceman in captivity.
Secret talks that began nearly two years ago between the United States and the Taliban were aimed at opening a political office in Doha, but were scuttled by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the AP reported.
“Bergdahl ‘is, as far as I know, in good condition,’” said Suhail, the AP reported on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who owns a home in the Sun Valley area, about 15 miles from Bergdahl’s home, is expected to meet with Taliban leaders in Doha over the weekend.
Idaho National Guard Col. Tim Marsano, a liaison to the family, said Bergdahl’s parents are scheduled to speak at a rally to free their son in Hailey on Saturday. The event, called “Bring Bowe Home,” will take place at Hop Porter Park on Saturday, June 22, from 1-5 p.m.
“The Bergdhal family is very encouraged by this development [the proposed prisoner exchange],” Marsano said.
Earlier this month, Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, reported that they had received a letter from their son through the International Red Cross. Details of the letter have not been released.
Although his captors have released several videos of Bergdahl over the last four years on the Internet, the U.S. military reports that his whereabouts are unknown.
Several times during the last four years, the possibility of a prisoner swap between the U.S. and the Taliban has been proposed publicly.
On Christmas Day 2009, the Taliban threatened to kill Bergdahl if Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani U.S.-trained neuroscientist convicted in a U.S. court for the attempted murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, was not released, along with 21 other Afghan prisoners.
In April 2010, the Taliban offered to free Bergdahl for a “limited number” of prisoners.
In May of 2011, Bob Bergdahl, a former UPS driver who now wears a long Afghan-style beard, posted a video of his own on the Internet, asking the Taliban directly to release his son.
“Strangely, to some, we must also thank those who have cared for our son for almost two years,” he said in the video. “We know our son is a prisoner and at the same time a guest in your homes.”
About one year ago, Bob Bergdahl gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine that indicated his son was deeply troubled by his participation in the Afghan war.
Congressional delegation issues statement
The Idaho congressional delegation, including Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador, issued the following statement Thursday: “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Bowe Bergdahl and his family. His safe return has always been of utmost importance to us, and his well-being is something we raise with senior administration officials whenever possible. We are following recent potential developments about him very closely.”