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Taliban leader Mullah Omar says prisoner swap was "big victory"
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) June 01, 2014

'New opening' for US-Taliban talks possible: Hagel
Washington (AFP) June 01, 2014 - US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed hope Sunday the release of US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl would lead to direct US talks with the Taliban.

"It could, it might and we hope it will present an opening," Hagel said in an interview from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with NBC's "Meet the Press."

Hagel noted that the United States had engaged in talks with the Taliban before, until they were broken off in 2012, and that it strongly supported an Afghan-led effort to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban.

"So maybe this will be a new opening that can produce an agreement," he said.

Bergdahl, 28, was released Saturday near the Afghan-Pakistani border after nearly five years in Taliban captivity, in a surprise development that came as the United States days is winding down its 13-year intervention in Afghanistan.

Hagel credited Qatar and its emir with Bergdahl's release in a trade for five high-level Taliban militants held at the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hagel denied that the United States had negotiated with terrorists, as Republican critics are charging, and defended the trade as an effort to save Bergdahl's life.

"This is a guy who probably went through hell for the last five years," he said. "And let's focus on getting him well and getting him back with his family."

Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar Sunday hailed the release of five senior insurgents in exchange for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl as a "big victory".

"I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahideen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory regarding the release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo prison," he said in a rare statement.

"I thank the government of Qatar, especially its emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad (Al Thani), who made sincere efforts for release of these leaders and for their mediation and for hosting them," he added.

Mullah Omar was Afghanistan's de facto head of state during their 1996-2001 rule ovwr Afghanistan. He has continued to lead the group's insurgency since they were ousted from power.

His current whereabouts are unconfirmed but some observers believe he is hiding inside Pakistan.

The five transferred Taliban detainees have been named by the US State Department as Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq.

A Taliban source in the Pakistani city of Quetta told AFP that the five had been officials in the Taliban regime driven out by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, and that they remained influential.

'We love you': Bergdahl parents to freed soldier son
Washington (AFP) June 01, 2014 - The parents of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl reached out to their son Sunday with a tearful message of love and support as he begins to recover from five years in captivity in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl, the only US soldier detained in Afghanistan since war began in 2001, was released Saturday in exchange for the freeing of five senior Taliban figures held at Guantanamo Bay, in a dramatic deal brokered by Qatar.

"I love you, Bowe," Jani Bergdahl said at a televised press conference in Boise, Idaho, with her husband Bob by her side.

"Give yourself all of the time you need to recover and decompress. There is no hurry. You have your life ahead of you."

The Bergdahls have not spoken directly with their son since he was captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.

The 28-year-old soldier was receiving treatment at the US military medical center in Landstuhl, Germany as part of the "reintegration process," the army said Sunday. It was unclear how long he would remain there.

"Bowe has been gone so long that it's going to be very difficult to come back," his father Bob said, adding that the couple were well aware of the challenges ahead.

"It's like a diver going deep on a dive and has to stay back up for recompression. If he comes up too fast, it could kill him."

Bob Bergdahl indicated Saturday that his son might be having difficulty speaking English, after nearly five years with his Pashto-speaking captors, who took him to various spots along the volatile Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to militant sources.

Fighting back tears, he said directly to his son: "When you're ready to hear this and when you see this, I hope your English is coming back and I want you to know that I love you."

His wife Jani, again addressing her son, said she was "so looking forward" to a reunion after more than five years apart, including his deployment.

"Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son," she said.

Obama: Qatar gave security guarantees on transferred prisoners
Washington (AFP) May 31, 2014 - President Barack Obama said Saturday the Qatari government had given the United States security guarantees over five Guantanamo Bay prisoners transferred to secure the release of a US soldier in Afghanistan.

Obama appeared at the White House with Bowe Bergdahl's parents Bob and Jani, saying "the Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security."

The five prisoners were named by the Taliban as Mohammad Fazl, Norullah Noori, Mohammed Nabi, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Abdul Haq Wasiq. A US State Department official also confirmed their identities.

A Taliban source in the Pakistani city of Quetta told AFP that the men had all been officials in the Taliban regime driven out of power in the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and that they were influential among the Taliban ranks.

Obama did not detail exactly what security guarantees had been put in place by Qatar.

Bob Bergdahl said he could not "communicate" his emotions after Obama called him earlier Saturday to tell him and his wife their son was free.

Bergdahl said that his son was having trouble speaking English after spending so much time in Taliban captivity.

Addressing his son, Bergdahl said a common Arabic phrase uttered by Muslims before giving a speech, and a few words that appeared to be in Pashto.

"In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful," Bob Bergdahl said in Arabic.

"I'm your father, Bowe," he added in English after speaking the same words in Pashto from the president's podium in the Rose Garden of the White House.

Obama said that he was proud of the US forces in Afghanistan who recovered Bergdahl and for the US diplomats who helped negotiate his release.

"Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays and the simple moments with family and friends which all of us take for granted," Obama said.

"But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten. His parents thought about him and prayed for him every single day."


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