The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

June 20, 2013

AP EXCLUSIVE: Taliban offer to free US soldier

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan Taliban are ready to free a U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their senior operatives imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay as a conciliatory gesture, a senior spokesman for the group said Thursday.

The offer to exchange U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Afghan detainees came as an Afghan government spokesman said President Hamid Karzai is now willing to join planned peace talks with the Taliban — provided that the Taliban flag and nameplate are removed from the militant group's newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. Karzai also wants a formal letter from the United States supporting the Afghan government.

Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho, is the only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war. He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed held in Pakistan.

In an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Doha office, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail said on Thursday that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition."

Col. Tim Marsano with the Idaho National Guard said he has been in touch with Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, of Hailey several times this week. The family isn't giving interviews, but Marsano said Bergdahl's parents do plan to speak at an event honoring the soldier in Hailey on Saturday.

"They're aware that the possibility of a transfer or exchange is on the table and they're encouraged by it," Marsano said.

Suhail did not elaborate on Bergdahl's current whereabouts. Among the five prisoners the Taliban have consistently requested are Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander, both of whom have been held for more than a decade.

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