Friday, August 10, 2012

Bergdahl prisoner swap back on table

5 Taliban detainees could be exchanged for Idaho soldier


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Bowe Bergdahl

A renewed effort by the Obama administration to jumpstart peace talks with Taliban leaders in Afghanistan could lead to the release of captured U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Reuters news agency reported from anonymous sources on June 8 that the United States had offered to deliver five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to Qatar, a wealthy gulf emirate, in exchange for Bergdahl.

A similar plan to swap Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners last year faltered in March due to what Taliban leaders described as the "alternating and ever-changing position," of U.S. negotiators.

Under the previous plan, the Taliban prisoners would have been delivered to Qatar in two blocs, with the last group delivered only after Bergdahl was released into U.S. custody.

The new plan would allow the five Taliban prisoners to be brought to Qatar before Bergdahl is released.

"The transfer of the prisoners has long been seen as a necessary evil by U.S. negotiators in their effort to coax the Taliban into talks," Reuters reported.

Bergdahl, who was born and raised near Hailey, disappeared from a U.S. military base in Afghanistan in 2009. He is currently the only known U.S. prisoner of war and believed to be held hostage by the Haqqani network, a group affiliated with the Taliban.

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The Unites States is currently holding 17 members of the Taliban at Guantanamo Bay.

For more than three years, Bergdahl has been used by his captors in negotiations with the U.S. to release Taliban captives and supporters like Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist, and to present the Taliban's political views about the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

Reuters reported June 8 that U.S. officials said any transfer of Taliban prisoners to Qatar would be done in accord with U.S. law, which requires that the U.S. Congress be notified before any detainees are moved from Guantanamo.

The Associated Press reported on June 30 that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured that measures would be taken, should the exchange take place, "to certify the men did not pose a danger."

"One thing I will assure you is that any prisoner exchanges that I have to certify are going to abide by the law and require that those individuals do not return back into the battle," said Panetta.

Bergdahl family liaison Idaho National Guard Col. Timothy Marsano said the Berdgahl family is hopeful that current efforts to release their son are successful.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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