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US seeks prisoner swap with Taliban to free captive American Sgt

18 February 2014, 14:00

Washington will attempt to resume talks with the Taliban on exchanging US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, held captive by insurgents since 2009 for Guantanamo Bay prisoners, in a bid to free US Army Sergeant before the majority of US forces leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The swap would trade Bergdahl for five Taliban members who have been held at Guantanamo for years would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl who is thought to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an allied insurgent group.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that she could not discuss details of US efforts but that 'there should be no doubt that we work every day - using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools - to try to see Sergeant Bergdahl returned home safely.'

In January the United States obtained a 'proof of life' video of Bergdahl - the first providing evidence he was still alive in more than three years.

Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 from a base in Afghanistan's eastern Paktika province, with the Taliban later saying they had captured him.

US officials had previously considered a possible swap in which Bergdahl would be let go in exchange for the release of Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay, but the deal was never clinched.

The US-led NATO military mission in Afghanistan is due to end this year. But negotiations between Kabul and Washington could mean that about 10,000 US troops stay in Afghanistan after 2014 on training and counter-terrorism operations.

The deal to allow the residual US force, however, has been the subject of months of bitter public wrangling between President Hamid Karzai and US officials.

To refresh the American offer, which has been on the table for more than two years, senior officials from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies decided within the past month to allow the simultaneous release of all five men. 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.

Bergdahl was 23 years old at the time and was serving at a base in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan which is known to be an area of Taliban stronghold. In the first video released by the Taliban, Bergdahl indicated that he was captured after lagging behind during a patrol.

The circumstances of Bergdahl's capture are unclear. There is no 'actionable' intelligence on Bergdahl's exact location, one official said, and a US military rescue mission has long been effectively misdirected.

The decision to try to resume talks comes amid U.S. 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 U.S. troops will depart this year, and the already declining US leverage with the Taliban would be diminished.

After opposing direct engagement with the Taliban for years, the United States shifted course. The effort led only to several secretive meetings in Germany and the Middle East. However, still there are no real accomplishments.

The man who would head renewed negotiations if they happened, James Dobbins, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been publicly skeptical that the Taliban are ready to talk again.

Voice of Russia, the Washington Post, AFP, Fox News

Source: US-seeks-prisoner-swap-with-Taliban-to-free- captive-American-Sgt-8427/

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