UK & World News

  • 1 June 2014, 17:45

Prisoner-Swap Soldier's First Day Of Freedom

A US soldier held for nearly five years by the Taliban in Afghanistan is undergoing a medical examination in Germany before being flown back to the US for a reunion with his family.

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, from Idaho, was freed on Saturday evening in exchange for America turning over five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo, to Qatari custody.

Sources say he is "weakened, scared and vulnerable" after having been tortured, and is currently receiving treatment at a US military hospital in Landstuhl.

His release follows months of indirect contact with the militants, with Qatar acting as intermediary.

According to a senior defence official, once SgtBergdahl climbed onto the noisy helicopter he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, the letters "SF?" - asking the troops if they were special operations forces.

They shouted back at him over the roar of the rotor blades: "Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time."

Then, according to the official, SgtBergdahl broke down and cried.

The parents of the freed soldier, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, said they were "joyful and relieved".

"We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son," they said.

Speaking at the White House flanked bySgtBergdahl's parents, US President Barack Obama said: "The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security."

He added: "Sergeant Bergdahl has missed birthdays and holidays, and the simple moments with family and friends which all of us take for granted.

"But while Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten."

Mr Obama expressed his gratitude to the Emir of Qatar for helping secure the soldier's release, and also the support of the Afghanistan government.

Sgt Bergdahl was taken prisoner in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.

Mike Baker, a former CIA operations officer, told Sky News: "It's been a long time coming.

"It's been a very frustrating exercise over the years, in part because for quite along time it was not clear who we were supposed to be negotiating with.

"People are extremely happy here he's back."

On the US policy not to negotiate with terrorists and concerns the exchange could lead to further hostage-taking, Mr Baker said this was a consideration, but added: "We had to get our guy back.

"We have a very strict policy as does the UK, we don't leave people behind. This was just a festering wound for all of these years. It had to be dealt with."

The identities of the freed detainees have not been revealed, although reports claim they are senior Taliban figures.

Advertisement