SINGAPORE ”“ American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been freed from captivity in Afghanistan in a prisoner exchange, U.S. officials announced Saturday.
Bergdhal, 28, was recovered at around 10:30 eastern time on Saturday.
President Barack Obama, in a statement, said, “Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years. On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal.”
“His parents have been notified, they happened to be in Washington, D.C. He is in good condition and was able to walk. He is at a base in Afghanistan undergoing medical evaluation,” said a senior defense official traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel overseas.” The transfer happened in Eastern Afghanistan along the border between U.S. special operations forces and members of the Taliban.”
“In connection with this there will be a transfer of five Guantanamo Bay detainees to Qatar,” said the official. “That transfer is happening right now.” Once in Qatar, per an agreement, the prisoners will be banned from traveling outside the country for one year.
“The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised,” said Hagel, in a statement.
According to the official, once aboard a U.S. helicopter, Bergdahl wrote on a paper plate with a pen “SF?” — meaning special operations forces — and the U.S. service members on board said back, loudly, “‘Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.’ And at that point, Sgt. Bergdahl broke down.”
Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since he went missing in June 2009. The last video showing him alive was in December 2013.
Bergdahl’s disappearance has been clouded in questions of whether he was abducted by the Taliban or actually deserted his base and was then picked up by Taliban forces. The senior defense official declined to comment on the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance but said he would be questioned about his captivity when he is ready. U.S.officials long have believed Bergdahl was held for the bulk of his time in Pakistan by the Haqqani network. The senior defense official would not disclose how Bergdahl came to be released by Taliban members.
“The transfer took place peacefully and without incident,” said the official. There were approximately 18 Taliban on the site.
Hagel, in his statement, said: “A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over. Sgt. Bergdahl is now under the care of the U.S. military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan. We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.”
“Sgt. Bergdahl’s return is a powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform. The United States government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, nor did we stop working to bring him back. I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals from DODand our interagency partners who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family.”
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, on his Facebook page, said: “It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home SGT Bowe Bergdahl.”
Bergdahl is at an undisclosed forward operating base in Afghanistan and will next be transferred to Bagram Air Base when cleared by medical personnel.
“This was a whole of government approach ““ state Department, the intelligence community, certainly the military, the national security staff ““ this was without question a team effort”¦ that took five years,” said the official.
“We really got traction in the last week here.”
More details will be provided as they come.