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All about US soldier Bowe Bergdahl and the Afghan-Taleban swop deal

Published on Jun 2, 2014 2:48 PM
 

Here are some fast facts about the US soldier who was released over the weekend, after five years in captivity:

THE SOLDIER
* Home-schooled Bowe Bergdahl, 28, joined the army in 2008, without telling his parents, apparently drawn by the promise of going overseas.
* Not much is known about his past. He was said to be a loner who often disappeared on long hikes and bike rides.
* A bookish athlete from Idaho with a passion for fencing, he became captive of the Afghan Taleban in 2009.
* An incident where a child was hit by a military vehicle weighed on him, as did the loss of a friend to a roadside bomb. "I am ashamed to even be American," he told his parents in his last e-mail before disappearing.

THE KIDNAP MYSTERY:
The circumstances of Bergdahl’s kidnap, from a base in Afghanistan’s eastern Paktika province, remain unclear.
Bergdahl said in a video that he fell behind on patrol, while leaked military cables show insurgents boasting that he was captured while using a toilet.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel declined questions over whether Bergdahl had gone Awol (absent without leave) or deserted his post.

IN CAPTIVITY
* Early videos show Bergdahl still relatively strong, doing push-ups in his army uniform and eating a simple meal in Afghan clothes, but begging for his release. "I am scared, I'm scared I won't be able to go home. It's very unnerving to be a prisoner," he said in the video.
* Officials and his family believe that Bergdahl spent most of his time as a prisoner across the border in Pakistan, where in 2011 he made a failed escape bid.

THE NEGOTIATION
* Bergdahl’s release was brokered by Qatar, in exchange for five Taleban militants who were freed from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and taken to the Gulf emirate.
* The exchange has been three years in the making.
* Hagel said it was finalised because of fears that Bergdahl was running out of time.
* The five Taleban men were released at nearly the same time that Taleban fighters handed Bergdahl to a group of US special operations soldiers at a place in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan.
* Bergdahl was said to be emotional when he was released, but able to walk as he was helicoptered out.
* Negotiations, reportedly, continued till the last few minutes before the handover.

WHY THE DEAL MATTERS
* The freeing of five senior Taleban figures in exchange for an American soldier, is a diplomatic first in the long Afghan war.
* It strengthens the position of the Haqqani clan within the clan-driven Afghan Taleban network.
* The exchange was also proof the Taleban’s diplomatic outpost in Qatar, considered dormant since peace talks fell through last year, still had an active role to play.
* It shows that the one-eyed Taleban chief Mullah Muhammad Omar is still active.
* Bergdahl’s release and return to his family in Idaho after nearly five years as a hostage of the Taleban has struck a humanitarian and emotional note for an administration trying to wind down the war.
* But the exchange also set up a new conflict between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers, who argued that the administration should not have set the prisoners free from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp without congressional approval.


FREED TALEBAN AND WHAT NEXT
* There are concerns that the freed Taleban will strengthen the existing group, leading to more violent attacks, even though the five must remain in Qatar for a year, as part of the deal.
* Founding member of Taleban, Khairullah Khairkhwa, 47, who is a confidant of current leader Mullah Omar, is among those freed.
* Mohammad Fazl was the commander of all Taleban troops in northern Afghanistan at the time of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. He has been accused of presiding over the massacres of Shiite and Tajik Sunni Muslims across parts of central and northern Afghanistan.
* Others released are all prominent members of the network. Mullah Norullah Noori was the governor of a province. Abdul Haq Wasiq, the Taleban’s former deputy minister of intelligence, and Mohammed Nabi, a former high-level Taleban security official, are the other two released.

BERGDAHL’S CURRENT STATE
* The sergeant, who is to be treated at Landstuhl in Germany, faces a long period of psychological rehabilitation.
* His father has indicated that Bergdahl may be having difficulty speaking English, after nearly five years with his Pashto-speaking captors.

BERGDAHL’S PARENTS
* Bob and Jani Bergdahl are overjoyed over their son's release. They have not spoken directly with him since he was captured in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.
* “Bowe has been gone so long that it’s going to be very difficult to come back,” his father Bob said. “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,” he added.
* “Freedom is yours. I will see you soon, my beloved son,” his wife Jani said.


Source: New York Times, Reuters, Guardian

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