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U.S. seeking release of army sergeant held captive by Taliban

Feb. 19, 2014 at 1:01 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The United States wants the safe return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a Taliban captive in Afghanistan, but is not yet in negotiations with it, the White House said.

"We are not ... involved in active negotiations with the Taliban," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in answer to a reporter's question.

"Clearly, if (the Afghan-led process of negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban) do resume, at some point then we will want to talk with the Taliban about the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl. He has been gone far too long, and we continue to call for and work towards his safe and immediate release."

U.S. Army infantryman Bergdahl was abducted in 2009 outside his base in eastern Afghanistan's Paktika province. The Taliban claimed responsibility for his capture.

The Washington Post, quoting current and former officials, reported earlier this week President Barack Obama's administration, keen to get Bergdahl released before the U.S. troops return home from Afghanistan by the end of this year, had decided to try to resume talks with the Taliban and trade Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Post said Bergdahl currently is believed to be in neighboring Pakistan held by the Haqqani insurgent group, which is allied to the Taliban.

Carney was asked about U.S. position on negotiating with terrorists as it relates to the release of Bergdahl.

"We have long supported an Afghan-led peace process, and we'll continue to do so," Carney replied, adding the release of the sergeant is a "special case" as he has been gone for "far too long."

"We can't discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that we work every day, using our military, our intelligence and our diplomatic tools, to see Sergeant Bergdahl returned home safely."

As for a prisoner exchange reported by the Post, Carney said President Obama has made it clear his administration will not transfer a detainee from Guantanamo "unless the threat the detainee may pose can be sufficiently mitigated and only when consistent with our humane treatment policy."

The Post report said five Afghan Taliban members at Guantanamo would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl.

The report quoted two people familiar with the decision as saying U.S. has been open for talks with the Taliban ever since the militant group broke off negotiations nearly two years ago. However, the renewed prisoner offer has not been formally made.

Officials, who spoke to the Post, said the decision was reached last month and that those at the level of deputy secretary would confine any new talks with the Taliban to only the prisoner issue.

The decision to try to resume talks with the Taliban also is because of the refusal of Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a security agreement for leaving a small U.S. force in the country after next year. Without an agreement, all U.S. troops would come home, leaving no leverage for the United States with the Taliban.

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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