(WASHINGTON) — The Obama administration is considering a swap of prisoners to gain the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held by the Taliban for four years.
A U.S. official confirms to ABC News that the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee has proposed renewed contacts with the Taliban to seek Bergdahl’s release. The proposal includes the transfer of five Afghan Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to Qatar in return for Bergdahl’s release.
The official cautions that it is a preliminary proposal that will require further approval by the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. The Deputies Committee is made up of the senior deputies of the relevant national security agencies; the secretaries of these departments make up the Principals Committee.
A swap of the five Guantanamo detainees has been proposed in the past as a confidence-building measure to jumpstart broader U.S. and Afghan talks with the Taliban. Those talks have not really developed into more than initial contacts. Under the new proposal the detainees would be released all at once to Qatari control instead of sequentially.
Bergdahl has been under the Taliban’s control since June 2009, when he disappeared under mysterious circumstances from his units’ base in eastern Afghanistan. It is believed he was quickly spirited into the tribal areas of Western Pakistan where he has been under the control of the Haqqani Network, one of the three main groups that make up the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl’s family issued a press release Tuesday welcoming reports of the proposal, which they said were indicative of “renewed efforts to use diplomacy to recover our family’s son, grandson and brother.”
“We thank all involved for this renewed effort and we hope everyone takes this opportunity seriously,” they said in the statement. “We are cautiously optimistic these discussions will lead to the safe return of our son after more than four and a half years in captivity.”
In mid-January the U.S. military confirmed that it was in possession of a “proof of life” video taken recently that showed Bergdahl. Since Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban, the Taliban has released five additional videos showing Bergdahl under their control.
The latest video has not been released publicly, but at a press briefing Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said those who had seen it said Bergdahl looked “frail and probably not in the best health he’s ever known.”
A U.S. official told ABC News that the video was not released by the Taliban, but had been “intercepted” by the U.S. No additional details of how the intercept occurred were provided.
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren would not confirm the new proposal but stated that Bergdahl’s release remains a priority for the U.S. government.
“Bergdahl has been gone for entirely too long,” said Warren. “We continue to use every tool available to us; military, diplomatic, intelligence, all tools available to bring Sergeant Bergdahl home. If talks were to begin with the Taliban, of course Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl would be a topic of those conversations.”
The U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will wind down later this year, though President Obama has not decided how many U.S. troops should remain to train and assist the Afghan military after this year. That decision has been delayed by President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement that would enable a training force to remain.
U.S. officials say the military has proposed keeping a U.S. force of 10,000 for the next several years to undertake the training mission.
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