The sole American soldier still held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan has been freed, according to the White House.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had been in the Afghan Taliban's custody since June 30, 2009. The Taliban released Bergdahl to US authorities Saturday night local time in Afghanistan, according to the Associated Press.
Bergdahl was freed in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, officials said. The transfer, described as non-violent, took place between US officials and 18 members of the Taliban.
"While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten," President Barack Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. "The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind."
Obama said earlier in a statement that Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery “is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”
“As we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue,” Obama added.
Obama also thanked the Amir of Qatar, who was instrumental in securing Bergdahl's release, and the government of Afghanistan.
Obama spoke to Bergdahl's parents in Washington shortly after the handover, officials said. Bob and Jani Bergdahl were "joyful and relieved" to learn about the news.
"We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son," they said in a statement. They later joined President Obama this evening as he delivered his statement from the White House. During the news conference, Bergdahl's father Bob delivered a short message to his son in Pashto, the language used by the Taliban. Bob Bergdahl said his son has been having difficulty understanding English.
This 2011 video shows Bergdahl’s father Robert making an appeal for his son.
Bergdahl disappeared in 2009 from his base near the Pakistani border under unknown circumstances. Bergdahl, who is now 28 and originally from Hailey, Idaho, was a private first class when he was captured, but has since been promoted twice and is now sergeant.
Officials said Bergdahl is in good condition and able to walk. He is expected to be transferred to Bagram Air Field, the main US base in Afghanistan, then on to the United States.
Footage shows news vans and journalists gathering outside the Bergdahl family home in Hailey.
Bergdahl reportedly broke down after special operations forces told him they had been searching for him, according to an unnamed senior defense official traveling with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Singapore.
The official told the Associated Press that shortly after Bergdahl climbed into the helicopter, he took a pen and wrote "SF?" on a paper plate to confirm the identity of the special operations forces on board.
"Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time," they shouted at him above the noise of the rotors.
It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Welcome home SGT Bowe Bergdahl.
— GEN Martin Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey)May 31, 2014
Secretary of State John Kerry said that he spoke with Afghan President Karzai regarding the exchange.
"As we look to the future in Afghanistan, the United States will continue to support steps that improve the climate for conversations between Afghans about how to end the bloodshed in their country through an Afghan-led reconciliation process,” Kerry said.
“As we’ve said, we look forward to working with the next President of Afghanistan and to standing side-by-side with the Afghan Government and the Afghan people as they build a secure, stable, sovereign, and unified country,” he added.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement that Bergdahl's return is a “powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform.”
“The United States government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, nor did we stop working to bring him back,” Hagel said. “I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals from DoD and our interagency partners who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family."
The five former Guantanamo detainees are thought to be the most senior Afghan Taliban commanders still imprisoned there.
Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Nori, Khairullah Khairkhwa, Mohammed Nabi and Mohammad Fazl, have reportedly had not yet been moved from the prison base in Cuba on Saturday morning, according to sources. After their handover, they will be prevented from leaving Qatar for at least a year, under the conditions of their release.
Details of Bergdahl's capture remain unclear.
There is speculation he left his unit willingly and could be charged with desertion or being absent without leave (AWOL), according to the Associated Press.