American POW Bergdahl Freed in Prisoner Exchange

National Journal
Kevin Baron, Defense One
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Kevin Baron, Defense One
May 31, 2014, 9:44 a.m.

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.

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