WASHINGTON - The United States has signalled that it would release five Afghan Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay detention facility in exchange for the freedom of its army sergeant, Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured in 2009.
Citing current and former officials, The Washington Post said the Obama administration is seeking to resume talks with the Taliban to try for the prisoner swap. Sgt Bergdahl is stated to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network.
However, the newspaper reported that the “mid-January decision by officials at the level of deputy secretary would confine any new talks to the prisoner issue. Negotiations would not attempt wider engagement with the Taliban on a host of issues related to the future of Afghanistan.”
According to the report, five members of the Afghan Taliban who have been held at Guantanamo for years would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 by the Haqqani network. The US officials decided to allow the simultaneous release of all the five men in order to refresh the American offer which has been on the table for more than two years.
In the past, the Taliban representatives had objected to the previous plan to release the prisoners by ones or twos as a test of Taliban and Qatari intermediaries’ ability to make sure the men did not return to militancy. American officials stress that it was the Taliban that broke off negotiations nearly two years ago and that the US doors have been open.
“The renewed offer has not been formally made, and no State Department or other officials have immediate plans to travel to Doha, Qatar, where any contact facilitated by the Qatari government would take place,” The Washington Post said.
Recently, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said the US officials are eager to get the soldier back. “We want him back. We’ve never stopped trying to bring that about. He’s never far from anyone’s mind here,” Kirby told reporters.
Bergdahl, an army infantryman, assigned to a unit from Alaska, was taken captive after walking off his base in the eastern province of Paktika. The Taliban offered to release him in exchange for $1 million and 21 Afghan prisoners.
The newspaper notes that the decision to try to resume talks comes amid the US frustration with Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has refused to sign a security pact that would allow some forces to stay in the country next year. “Without it, all US troops will depart this year and the already declining US leverage with the Taliban would be reduced,” it commented.