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Touch and go on Bergdahl release until very end

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 3, 2014 at 12:30 pm •  Published: June 3, 2014

The State Department official, who spent the past 11 days in Doha helping guide the final round of negotiations to release Bergdahl, said that after the office-opening incident, the U.S. made it clear that it was amenable to indirect or direct talks with the Taliban.

In September 2013, the Taliban made an offer that appeared to be a request for direct talks about the Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. responded by seeking proof that Bergdahl was still alive. The Taliban released a video of Bergdahl in January.

A month later, however, the Taliban said they had suspended talks with the U.S. to exchange Bergdahl for the five Taliban officials. U.S. officials viewed it as a relatively mild rebuff and went to the Qataris to find out whether there still was the possibility of talks about the detainees. The Qataris agreed to act as an intermediary and after some consideration, the Taliban decided they were willing to talk.

No substantive discussion about terms of the swap occurred before both sides agreed to the latest talks, which started in late March or early April. U.S. officials were never in the same room with the Taliban leaders.

U.S. officials would talk to the Qataris, who would then contact the Taliban. Sometimes a couple of weeks would pass before U.S. officials would get a response from the Taliban on various issues involving the swap. In the few days leading up to Saturday's release, the communication became more frequent and the turnaround time was only a day.

U.S. officials did their negotiating in various Qatari government buildings — once changing venues because of broken air conditioning.

The State Department official said there was not a single breakthrough that allowed the swap to materialize, although U.S. officials believed that the Taliban's decision to accept the one-year travel ban for the released detainees was a large step forward. In earlier rounds of negotiations, the Taliban had always sought exemptions from the travel ban for medical purposes or other reasons.

The official said the detainees' activities will be limited in Qatar, an Arab emirate on the Persian Gulf, but that the conditions are not like house arrest. The five detainees, who are all in their 40s, received physicals upon arriving in Qatar on Sunday.

By last Wednesday morning, the U.S. negotiators had finalized the broad terms of the agreement. Then it was down to risky logistics of actually transferring Bergdahl in a war zone where both sides, who are fighting each other, had to be present.

Even on Saturday, up until the moment Bergdahl walked free, the U.S. negotiators were on the phone talking to the Taliban political leaders — through the Qataris — trying to prevent a misunderstanding from scuttling the deal.


Associated Press writers Ken Dilanian and Donna Cassata in Washington and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.