Taliban Showing New Willingness On Prisoner Swap At issue is the fate of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. prisoner of war held captive in Afghanistan. The Taliban may be keen to trade him for some of its leaders held at Guantanamo Bay.
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Taliban Showing New Willingness On Prisoner Swap

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Taliban Showing New Willingness On Prisoner Swap

Taliban Showing New Willingness On Prisoner Swap

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There are new glimmers of hope for a U.S. prisoner of war captured in Afghanistan more than three years ago. The soldier's name is Bowe Bergdahl. He's a 26-year-old Army sergeant from Idaho who was taken by the Taliban.

As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports, his captors appear to be more receptive to finding a way to bring him home, and it may involve a prisoner swap.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: America's only known prisoner of war sounds like this...


SERGEANT BOWE BERGDAHL: Well, I am scared. I'm scared I won't be able to go home.

TEMPLE-RASTON: This is from a videotape of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl soon after the Taliban captured him in 2009.


BERGDAHL: It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Bergdahl has appeared in five Taliban propaganda videos. U.S. officials say they believe he's healthy and is being treated relatively well. And while there's been a steady stream of discussions to win his release, in the past couple of months, officials say, the talks have found new momentum. Negotiations stalled in March, but more recently the Taliban has expressed an interest in getting back to where they'd left off. And one of the key topics of discussion: trading Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bergdahl.

RICHARD BARRETT: So my name is Richard Barrett and I'm the coordinator of the United Nations al-Qaida and Taliban monitoring team.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Barrett has been involved in some of the discussions on behalf of the United Nations. The U.N. is involved because, among other things, the Security Council has travel restrictions against the Taliban leaders who may be part of the swap. And this is how Barrett sees the discussion.

BARRETT: Everyone's waiting on everybody else to make the first move. I mean, and it has to wait a little bit on the mechanics being sorted out.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And those mechanics are where there's been movement. Broadly(ph), the U.S. has said that if the Taliban renounces al-Qaida publicly, that would trigger other initiatives, including a plan to transfer five Taliban leaders now at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar, where they would be under house arrest. In exchange, the Taliban would release Bergdahl. U.S. officials say this proposal was floated in March. What's changed is the Taliban's receptiveness to it.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM: How shall I put this? We see reflections.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul.

CUNNINGHAM: There are a number of moving pieces that are possible. We haven't made any decisions in any way, shape, or form as far as I know, about any transfers.

TEMPLE-RASTON: No decisions about the transfers, but a lot of groundwork has been laid. As envisioned now, the swap would include the Taliban's former ministers of defense, interior and intelligence, all of whom have been in Guantanamo for the past decade.

BARRETT: These are really important people and I think it's more than symbolic.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Again, U.N.'s Richard Barrett.

BARRETT: They'd be joined by their families and so on. There would be an office there. They'd be in communication with their Taliban friends. And then you could argue that actually they would give a boost to the movement. Whether it was a boost towards peace or whether it's a boost towards more war, well, that would remain to be seen.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The hope is that the prisoner release would lead to talks between the U.S. and Taliban and would eventually pave the way for the one thing that is required for peace in Afghanistan: formal reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. U.S. officials say they aren't sure why the Taliban has had this sudden change of heart. They say the Taliban may now have a better idea of what the future of their country looks like and they want to be a part of it. Barrett says the prisoner swap and what follows won't be easy because both sides have a careful calculus to make.

BARRETT: And of course it's that casting an agreement as victory, or at least not defeat, which is really important to both sides.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And even if both can eventually declare victory, it's unclear how trading five Taliban leaders for America's only known prisoner of war will be received. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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