The lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, captured by insurgents nearly five years ago, has been released to American forces in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, Obama administration officials said Saturday.
The soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was handed over to American Special Operations forces inside Afghanistan about 10:30 a.m. Saturday by a group of 18 Taliban, officials said.
American officials said that Sergeant Bergdahl was in good condition and able to walk.
The five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo were being transferred into the custody of officials from Qatar, who will accompany them back to that Persian Gulf state, where they will be subject to security restrictions, including a one-year travel ban.
Talks on the exchange resumed in earnest about a week ago with Qatari officials who were acting as intermediaries for the Taliban.
President Obama personally telephoned the soldier’s parents on Saturday, shortly after Sergeant Bergdahl was transferred to the American military; the Bergdahl family was in Washington after a visit here for Memorial Day, officials said.
“Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield,” President Obama said in a statement.
The sergeant’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, said in a statement: “We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home! We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son.”
Sergeant Bergdahl is believed to have been held by the militant Haqqani network in the tribal area of Pakistan’s northwest frontier, on the Afghan border. He was captured in Paktika Province in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.
The circumstances of how he was separated from his unit and captured have remained a mystery.
The latest evidence indicating that Sergeant Bergdahl, who was promoted twice while held prisoner, was still alive came in January, when a video was obtained by the American military showing him alert but also apparently in declining health.
One Defense Department official said that once Sergeant Bergdahl was safely aboard the American military helicopter flown to the rendezvous, he wrote on a paper plate with a pen — because it was so loud — “S.F.?” seeking to find out if his rescuers were American Special Forces.
One soldier yelled back, “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time,” at which point, the Pentagon official said, Sergeant Bergdahl broke down crying.
Let's all set aside for the moment the circumstances surrounding his release and let's instead join his parents in rejoicing over his freedom. And let's pray the scars caused by his imprisonment heal quickly and fully.
Welcome home Sgt. Bergdahl, welcome home.