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U.S. soldier freed after nearly five years in captivity

May 31, 2014 at 4:38 PM EDT
The only American prisoner being held in Afghanistan was released Saturday, in exchange for five Taliban detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. 28-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by insurgents in 2009, was turned over to U.S. special forces. For more, Adam Entous of the Wall Street Journal joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining us now from Washington D.C. is Adam Entous who’s been covering this story for the Wall Street Journal. So first off, what do we know about Bowe Bergdahl’s condition right now?

ADAM ENTOUS: Right, we’ve been told by American officials that he’s walking on his own. He’s in good condition. He was recovered earlier this morning by Special Operations Forces which went to a rendezvous point where they met a group of Taliban that were holding him, and they handed him over without incident.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what was that meeting like between him and the soldiers?

ADAM ENTOUS: We don’t have a lot of details at this point about what that meeting was like. It was brokered by Qatar, which has been acting as an intermediary between the U.S. and the Taliban in this exchange. So, they just literally flew in. It’s a point that they had agreed to meet in eastern Afghanistan. The American Special Operations Forces were on helicopters and came into that area. They met the Taliban, took Bergdahl, brought him back onto the helicopter and took him to a U.S. base for evaluation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There was something about him scribbling something on a paper plate. What’s that about?

ADAM ENTOUS: He wasn’t sure who had him, so he was asking if that was American Special Forces, to which one of the members of the Special Forces team responded that yes it was.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, how unprecedented is such a negotiation? The Administration and several people have put out statements saying that this was a longtime coming.

ADAM ENTOUS: Right, well, the Americans had tried to initiate talks with the Taliban directly back in 2011 and 2012, and those broke down. And since then the Americans have had no direct contact with the Taliban. There was an attempt last summer to try to open a Taliban political office in Qatar, and almost immediately after that thing opened it was closed down, and it was kind of an embarrassing moment involving the Taliban raising a flag that infuriated the government in Kabul.

Since then it looked like the talks were going nowhere until around November of last year when the Taliban indicated again through Qatar that they were interested in having renewed negotiations but narrowly focused just on the fate of Bergdahl and five Taliban Afghan detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. And that’s really where this thing after that became a fast track. You had a video that was released by the Taliban, which was considered by the U.S. to be a goodwill gesture and a sign that Bergdahl was safe. And after that the Americans agreed to release all five of these Afghan detainees all at once, and that’s what occurred today.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And very briefly, what do we know about these detainees?

ADAM ENTOUS: Well, depending on who you talk to, John McCain has identified them as terrorists with blood on their hands. U.S. officials really downplay their future threat that they represent to the U.S. Under the terms of the agreement with Qatar they’ll be required to stay in Qatar for a period of at least one year. And there are other security arrangements that are in place that have not been disclosed at this point, but effectively Qatar has agreed to monitor them and to make sure that they don’t reenter the fight or support the Taliban in an active way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Adam Entous, joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

ADAM ENTOUS: Thank you.