American POW Released From Taliban After 5 Years

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years, was released Saturday into U.S. custody. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with correspondent Tom Bowman about the deal that secured Bergdahl's release.


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. The U.S. has secured the release of the only American prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held by militants for five years and was part of a negotiated prisoner swap from members of the Taliban held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba. President Obama spoke earlier this evening from the Rose Garden, flanked by Sgt. Bergdahl's parents Bob and Jenny.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As President, I know I speak for all Americans when I say, we cannot wait for the moment when you're reunited and your son Bowe is back in your arms.

JENNY BERGDAHL: I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported Bowe. He has had a wonderful team everywhere. We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers. Thank You.

RATH: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins me now for more. Tom, how did all this play out?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, first of all, the U.S. has been negotiating for his release for more than a year - working a possible prisoner exchange with the Taliban. It fell apart, and we're told it started up again just in recent months. So today, according to a Pentagon official, the 18 armed Taliban brought Bergdahl across the border from Pakistan into eastern Afghanistan. We're not told exactly where. And then they were met by American Green Berets. There were U.S. helicopters flying overhead, as well as drones to keep an eye on the situation. And then Bergdahl simply walked to the Americans, and not a shot was fired. The Taliban simply melted back into Pakistan.

RATH: And Sgt. Bergdahl was held for five years, can you tell us what we know about how he was captured, and what we've heard about his status over the years?

BOWMAN: Well, it's still a bit hazy how he was captured in June of 2009. There were reports that simply walked away from his combat outpost with some Afghan's in the Eastern province of Paktia, right next to the Pakistan border. Now Bergdahl claimed in a video released by the Taliban, a few years later, that he lagged behind his patrol and was grabbed. Then he was taken by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan - that's one of the most brutal militant forces - and then taken over the border. The Haqqani's initially demanded a million dollars ransom in the release of 21 Taliban prisoners. And over the years, the Taliban released videos of him. He was able to get a letter to his parents in Idaho through the Red Cross. And then, you know, the Taliban dropped their ransom demands to five prisoners - those being held at Guantanamo. And all the prisoners are considered high-ranking Taliban officers. There is Mohammad Nabi Omari, who is a - is considered, you know, one of the big guys here. He has links to al-Qaida, the Taliban in the Haqqani Network and is a former Provincial Governor from the Taliban, a former Intelligence Officer, a Deputy Defense Minister. So these are very high-ranking Taliban folks here.

RATH: President Obama thanked the Emir of Qatar. What role did that country play in the negotiations?

BOWMAN: Well, Qatar served as a middleman here, you know, working between the Taliban and the U.S. And of course the Taliban had opened an office in Qatar for negotiations with the Afghan government. Of course, those negotiations have really not gone anywhere over the past couple of years. They kind of just fell apart.

RATH: Tom, quickly, what happens next for Sgt. Bergdahl?

BOWMAN: Well, he's been taken to Bagram Air-Base for medical attention. And then we're told he'll go on to Landstuhl in Germany where they have a medical - U.S. Army medical facility. And then we don't how long he'll stay there, but eventually he'll head back to Texas to Brooke Army Medical Center for more, you know, long-term care.

RATH: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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