US President Barack Obama said Saturday that an American soldier held for nearly half a decade in Afghanistan has been freed, in what officials indicated was a swap for five Guantanamo detainees.
“Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years,” said Obama, announcing the release of the army sergeant.
Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 from a base in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, with the Taliban later saying they had captured him.
The Idaho native was the only American soldier held captive by the militants.
“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,” Obama said.
The US leader expressed his “deepest appreciation” to the Emir of Qatar “for his assistance in helping to secure our soldier’s return.”
“The Emir’s personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries,” he said.
Obama’s announcement came as Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel released a statement saying he had informed the US Congress of a decision to transfer five Guantanamo detainees to Qatar.
“The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised,” Hagel said.
He also thanked the Emir of Qatar, praising him for his “instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl.”
Hagel said Bergdahl was “now under the care of the US military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan.”
A senior administration official confirmed that, “in connection” with Bergdahl’s return, the United States had transferred five Afghan Guantanamo detainees to Qatar.
“We have viewed Sgt. Bergdahl’s release through diplomatic means as a vital goal in its own right because of our historic commitment to leave no soldier behind on the battlefield,” the official said.
Since his capture, Bergdahl has appeared in several Taliban videos.
In January, the United States obtained a “proof of life” video of the soldier — the first concrete evidence in more than three years that he was still alive.
In his statement, Obama said “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,” he added.
Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile said he had spoken with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to brief him on the development.