Touch and go on Bergdahl release until very end

Soldier was apparently disillusioned with the war and left his post
Associated Press
Jun 3, 2014

Right up until the moment Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed, U.S. officials weren't sure the Taliban would really release the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan in exchange for high-level militants detained at Guantanamo Bay.

It was touch and go. But then came the call at 5:12 p.m. Saturday on a secure phone line at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar. U.S. negotiators learned that Bergdahl, a 28-year-old from Hailey, Idaho, held by the Taliban for nearly five years, was aboard a Delta Force helicopter bound for a U.S. base north of Kabul.

Bergdahl's release has hardly been a straightforward yellow-ribbon moment for the U.S. Bergdahl apparently was disillusioned with the war and left his post. The decision to free him in exchange for five top Taliban officials who have been held in the U.S. detention center in Cuba has raised questions about whether such a swap was too big a concession to make.

According to a State Department official directly involved in the negotiations in Doha, U.S. officials who had holed up in the embassy for three straight days thought the final days of negotiations with the Taliban's political leadership, through Qatari intermediaries, had gone pretty smoothly. The U.S. had gotten the Taliban to agree that the five detainees would be prohibited from traveling outside Qatar for a year after their release — something the Taliban earlier had opposed. In return, the U.S. agreed to release all five detainees at once, not one or two at a time as previously offered, in an effort to get Bergdahl back more quickly.

Still, the negotiators weren't positive the deal would work until they got the call that U.S. forces had the Army sergeant, who broke down and cried during the flight. After the call, the negotiators were emotional, too, he said.

"Backslapping was not how I would describe it," he said. "It wasn't like New Year's Eve. It was emotional, but not a giddy moment."

It's still unclear what the exact breakthrough moment was, but over lengthy negotiations the official said the talks gelled. Both sides wanted it to happen immediately before it could fall apart.

Details of the secret negotiations were described by the State Department official. But other information on the state of diplomacy between the Taliban, the U.S. and others was described by other current and former U.S. officials. None were authorized to speak about the deal publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The negotiating team included two each from the State Department and the Pentagon, one from the White House national security staff and two from the U.S. Embassy in Doha.

President Barack Obama, in Europe for meetings with several nations' leaders and NATO officials, said Tuesday his administration had consulted with Congress about that possibility "for some time."

The prisoner swap idea had evolved in fits and starts since early 2011. The idea of an exchange was one of three confidence-building measures that were meant to open the door for the Afghan government to hold direct peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The goal was for the Taliban network to disassociate itself from international terrorism, which essentially required them to break ranks with al-Qaida, and open a political office in Qatar. In June 2013, the Taliban opened the office, adorning it with the same white flag flown during its five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended with the 2001 American-led invasion. Afghan President Hamid Karzai became incensed because he saw that as a Taliban effort to set up a government-in-exile. While the office never opened, Qatar proved a good place to have back-channel communication with the Taliban.

The State Department official, who spent the past 11 days in Doha helping guide the final round of negotiations to release Bergdahl, said that after the office-opening incident, the U.S. made it clear that it was amenable to indirect or direct talks with the Taliban.

In September 2013, the Taliban made an offer that appeared to be a request for direct talks about the Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. responded by seeking proof that Bergdahl was still alive. The Taliban released a video of Bergdahl in January.

A month later, however, the Taliban said they had suspended talks with the U.S. to exchange Bergdahl for the five Taliban officials. U.S. officials viewed it as a relatively mild rebuff and went to the Qataris to find out whether there still was the possibility of talks about the detainees. The Qataris agreed to act as an intermediary and after some consideration, the Taliban decided they were willing to talk.

No substantive discussion about terms of the swap occurred before both sides agreed to the latest talks, which started in late March or early April. U.S. officials were never in the same room with the Taliban leaders.

U.S. officials would talk to the Qataris, who would then contact the Taliban. Sometimes a couple of weeks would pass before U.S. officials would get a response from the Taliban on various issues involving the swap. In the few days leading up to Saturday's release, the communication became more frequent and the turnaround time was only a day.

U.S. officials did their negotiating in various Qatari government buildings — once changing venues because of broken air conditioning.

The State Department official said there was not a single breakthrough that allowed the swap to materialize, although U.S. officials believed that the Taliban's decision to accept the one-year travel ban for the released detainees was a large step forward. In earlier rounds of negotiations, the Taliban had always sought exemptions from the travel ban for medical purposes or other reasons.

The official said the detainees' activities will be limited in Qatar, an Arab emirate on the Persian Gulf, but that the conditions are not like house arrest. The five detainees, who are all in their 40s, received physicals upon arriving in Qatar on Sunday.

By last Wednesday morning, the U.S. negotiators had finalized the broad terms of the agreement. Then it was down to risky logistics of actually transferring Bergdahl in a war zone where both sides, who are fighting each other, had to be present.

Even on Saturday, up until the moment Bergdahl walked free, the U.S. negotiators were on the phone talking to the Taliban political leaders — through the Qataris — trying to prevent a misunderstanding from scuttling the deal.

 

Comments

freespeech1

Snowden is no hero, but his actions have not resulted in American deaths, unlike sgt burghal who also voiced his hatred of America.

deertracker

We still can't leave him behind. Free him and prosecute!

JACKEL

They left many behind in Korea who had gone over !

The Big Dog's back

How do you know snowden's actions haven't resulted in any deaths?

jazzbo

meowmix- Good point

Little Giant

When was this soldier found guilty?

blackjack82

Kind of reminds me of past Browns trades, give up 5 first round draft picks for a bench warmer !!

deertracker

If anyone on this forum would have preferred their own son/daughter be left over there to die, speak now or STHU! If the guy is guilty of a crime, prosecute him. Period. You don't leave the guy behind.

Are we the home of the brave or not? Stop acting like little scared b^%ches because five uncharged supposed worst of the worst are free in another country miles and miles away. I read all this tough talk on here about how you would kill some harmless drunk that stumbled into your house by accident but now you are scared of exactly what?

The Afghanistan war is ending so the prisoners were going to have to be sent back anyway. DUH!

Why would anyone want their "tax" dollars paying for Gitmo.

Your beloved Israelis did a 1000 to 1 swap. Just another attack on this President.

Donegan

I halfway agree with the first part of your post. There does need to be a investigation into the accusations and then the military should act upon it. I am not judging this guy till something solid comes out, Not just hearsay.
As for the rest it is hopeful thinking which is unfortunately wrong. The Islamist are religious fanatics and they will not stop till they or us are dead. They have no care for their own lives and see it as a bonus to die for their cause. Afghanistan is not over just wait and see. Where i see where Obama has went wrong is he once again overstepped his authority by making the trade without notifying congress. He is not a king and has rules which they need to start holding him to. Maybe you should quit defending his wrong actions and holding him responsible once in awhile before the Repubs get back the office and do the same stuff and we all have to hear your dumb a** whine about it.

deertracker

Faux news much? I don't know that he did anything illegal but the soldier is free. Would you want your son back? Case closed!

Which half do you agree with, the prosecute him or don't leave him behind?

Donegan

That whole comprehension thing has you flustered huh? Investigate the soldier to verify the accusations coming from the other solders about his walking off and going AWOL before prosecuting him.
Prosecute the president for overstepping his authority by not telling congress about the trade as is the law.
Get it one is innocent till proven guilty, The other is blatantly guilty of bypassing congress for a feel good story that looks to be just another incompetent move by the liar and chiefs admin.

deertracker

How does that relate to the FIRST part of my comment? Prosecute the President? GMAB!

Donegan

"If the guy is guilty of a crime, prosecute him. Period." The president clearly has broken the law. So prosecute him, Period.
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline...
It is also easy to see your hypocrisy shining through.

The Big Dog's back

done again, how does it feel to be a hypocrite? You've been whining in your beer for months now about the American terrorist we droned over in Yemen.

Donegan

If they are citizens they get trials. It is simple as that no matter how much you want to kill citizens off.
BTW Dog, How does it feel to know no one takes your dumb a** serious?

deertracker

Obama is a citizen!

Donegan

Then give him a trial, We all can see what he did and even he even admits it. So prosecute him, You know if you don't want to be a hypocrite.

jazzbo

I don't take Republicans or Independents (Republican lite ) serious.

Donegan

Thats funny, You are so brainwashed into believing what your "party of tolerance" tells you you have become intolerant of others.
As i have said before the nations oldest hate organization is still creating brainless drones to spread their hate.

jazzbo

No , I'm not brainwashed.
I figured this out on my own after watching jack-asses like Shaun Hannity.
I used to watch Fox News constantly.
The Republican Party is FULL of lies and hatred.

Donegan

"The Republican Party is FULL of lies and hatred." That is different from you hate mongers from the left in the Democrat party how?
I love how the "Party of tolerance" can do nothing more than express what they cannot tolerate. Democrats are no better than repubs, Face it your a hypocrite.

jazzbo

And you are a stooge of the Republican Party.

Contango

Re: "five uncharged supposed worst of the worst are free in another country miles and miles away"

Yea, and the nineteen 9/11 hijackers were once far away too, dweeb.

deertracker

Well if W had been on his job there would not have been a 9/11.

Contango

Re: "Well if (snip)"

The hijackers started there plans under Pres. Clinton, dweeb.

The Big Dog's back

Saddam Hussein was doing the dirty work for Raygun. When he said no more he became our enemy.

deertracker

You don't know when the plans started but we ALL know when they were executed. Stick with what you know!

Contango

(Edit)

Most of the hijackers arrived in the U.S. during the Clinton admin., dweeb.

"The first hijackers to arrive in the United States were Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who settled in the San Diego area in January 2000.

They were followed by three hijacker-pilots, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah mid mid-2000 to undertake flight training in south Florida.

The fourth hijacker-pilot, Hani Hanjour, arrived in San Diego in December 2000."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hij...

deertracker

Was W warned about them or not? Yes! His admin. ignored the warning! Don't cherry pick pooh. List all the facts!

Contango

Re: "Was W warned about them or not? Yes!"

Prove it, dweeb.

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