Members of the Taliban who have held an American soldier in Afghanistan for almost five years are eager to make a deal to release him — but US officials are apparently too disorganized to arrange the handover, and there are so many agencies involved that the Taliban aren't sure with whom to make a deal.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban on June 30, 2009 and is the only American citizen being held prisoner in Afghanistan. Now that the US military presence is being scaled back, authorities are likely to want to get him out soon.
Yet efforts to do so are not proceeding quickly. An anonymous US official told the Associated Press that about 24 officials from eight different federal agencies are working the case on a mostly part-time basis. The CIA, FBI, US Central Command, Special Operations Command, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US State Department, and the Department of Defense are all involved.
A defense official and an army officer, quoted anonymously by the AP, said that the Taliban — from leadership to foot soldiers — are very keen to release Bergdahl, and are reaching out to various US agencies with offers of good faith. However, because of the fractured approach of those tasked with freeing Bergdahl, they are not sure whom on the US-side they should be liaising with. The US has yet to formerly respond, the officer added.
An official also said that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office and Central Command separately discovered a video showing that Bergdahl was still alive in December, and were not sure who should tell his family. Hagel's office subsequently did, a decision which reportedly "angered" Central Command.
Central Command issued a statement in response on Thursday describing the allegations as “completely false,” and said they “mischaracterize the ongoing close coordination and teamwork between US Central Command, the Department of Defense and other US government agencies.”
“Sgt. Bergdahl has been gone far too long and there should be no doubt that we work hard every day using all the military, intelligence, and diplomatic tools at our disposal to see Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely,” the statement said.
Similar concerns have been raised before, however. In February, a Defense Department official told Politico “The No. 1 issue that’s kept Bergdahl from coming home is a lack of cohesion to the effort."
The same month, Californian Republican Duncan Hunter sent a letter to Hagel asking that a senior official be appointed to coordinate all efforts for his release so that government agencies do not work at cross purposes.
Bergdahl's family has also voiced frustration at the slow pace of negotiations. His father Bob released an appeal video and said in 2012 that he had so little faith in the US's strategy that he planned to learn Pashto himself and directly contact the Taliban.
Bergdahl's father addresses the Pakistani military and the people of Pakistan.
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.
The last glimpse of him was the December “proof of life” videos, which was the latest in a number of videos released by the Taliban showing him in captivity.
In exchange for his release, his captors initially demanded $1 million and the release of 21 Afghan prisoners (many of which were Guantanamo Bay detainees), as well as Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani former al Qaeda courier and financier who's serving an 86 year jail term in the US for attempted murder and assault. When it became clear this wasn't going to happen, they scaled their demands back to five prisoners.
Bergdahl is thought to be held by militants from the Haqqani network, a Taliban-affiliated insurgent group which primarily operates near the Pakistani Afghan border and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US state department.