A U.S. soldier taken hostage by the Taliban in 2009 was released in exchange for five Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
The AP added that Bergdahl was the only American soldier imprisoned in Afghanistan. According to an April 2014 AP report, about two dozen officials at the State and Defense departments, the military's U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, the CIA and FBI had been working on the case.
The White House sent out a statement Saturday afternoon on Bergdahl's release:
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. Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars. Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield. And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue.
For his assistance in helping to secure our soldier's return, I extend my deepest appreciation to the Amir of Qatar. The Amir’s personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries. The United States is also grateful for the support of the Government of Afghanistan throughout our efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.
This week the United States renewed its commitment to the Afghan people and made clear that we will continue to support them as their [sic] chart their own future. The United States also remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process as the surest way to achieve a stable, secure, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan. While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground.
UPDATE (6:20 p.m. ET): President Barack Obama delivered a statement from the Rose Garden with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by his side. Obama said Bowe was "never forgotten" and as a parent, he couldn't "imagine the hardship" they went through.
"We cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited," Obama added.
Bergdahl's release comes days after Obama announced plans for the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Nearly 10,000 will be there after 2014, followed by a virtual withdrawal of all presence by the close of 2016 and the conclusion of Obama's presidency.
"We also maintain an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home," Obama said. That’s who we are as Americans."
More from The Associated Press below:
The handover followed indirect negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban, with the government of Qatar serving as the go-between. Qatar is taking custody of the five Afghan detainees who were held at Guantanamo.
According to a senior defense official traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Singapore, once Bergdahl climbed onto the noisy helicopter he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, the "SF?" — asking the troops if they were special operations forces.
They shouted back at him over the roar of the rotors: "Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time."
Then, according to the official, Bergdahl broke down.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, is believed to have been held by the Haqqani network since June 30, 2009. Haqqani operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war.
The network, which the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some degree of autonomy.
Officials said Bergdahl was transferred to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for medical evaluations. A defense official said he would be sent to Germany for additional care before eventually returning to the United States.
The defense official said Bergdhal was tentatively scheduled to go to the San Antonio Military Medical Center where he would be reunited with his family. The military was working Saturday to connect Bergdahl with his family over the telephone or by video conference.
Several dozen U.S. special operations forces, backed by multiple helicopters and surveillance aircraft, flew into Afghanistan by helicopter and made the transfer with the approximately 18 Taliban members. The official said the commandos were on the ground for a short time before lifting off with Bergdahl.
The official added that the U.S. still believes that Bergdahl was being held for the bulk of the time in Pakistan, but it was not clear when he was transported to eastern Afghanistan.
All of the officials insisted on anonymity in order to discuss details of Bergdahl's transfer.
Officials said Obama spoke with Bergdahl's parents Saturday, shortly after their son had been taken into U.S. custody. Bergdahl's family was in Washington on a previously scheduled visit when they received the news.
The parents of the freed soldier, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, said in a statement that they were "joyful and relieved."
"We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son," they said.
The U.S. has long been seeking Bergdahl's release, but efforts have intensified as Obama finalized plans to pull nearly all American forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
"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," said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Officials said the Taliban signaled to the U.S. in November that they were ready to start new talks on the issue of detainees. After the U.S. received proof that Bergdahl was still alive, indirect talks began, with Qatar sending messages back and forth between the two parties.
The talks intensified about a week ago, officials said, resulting in Bergdahl's release and the transfer of the Afghan detainees.
The five Guantanamo detainees departed the base on a U.S. military aircraft Saturday afternoon. Under the conditions of their release, the detainees will be banned from traveling outside of Qatar for at least one year.
Obama and the emir of Qatar spoke last week about the conditions of the release, which have been codified in a memorandum of understanding between the two countries, officials said.
The administration is legally required to notify Congress in advance about plans to release Guantanamo detainees. An administration official said lawmakers were notified only after U.S. officials knew they had Bergdahl, but before the transfers took place.
The detainees are among the most senior Afghans still held at the prison. They are:
—Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence
—Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001
—Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden
—Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban's communications office in Kabul
—Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.
Taliban and Afghan officials could not be reached for comment. In Pakistan, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said her government was "not aware of" Bergdahl's release or the negotiations leading up to it. She declined to comment further.
The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl's capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could be charged with being absent without leave (AWOL) or desertion.