Last month, the international press revealed that the Taliban had delivered to U.S. officials a video showing that America’s only prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was still alive. What has not yet been previously reported was the U.S. government requested this proof of life as a precondition to resuming direct U.S.-Taliban talks over a prisoner swap: Bergdahl in exchange for Taliban commanders currently imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.
White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden declined to talk about administration contacts with the Taliban. “We cannot discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that we work every day—using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools—to see Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely,” she said.
But according to interviews with current U.S., Afghan, and Pakistani senior officials, the potential new U.S.-Taliban prisoner swap talks, which have not yet begun, are linked to a broader U.S. government effort to lay the groundwork for a potential reconciliation between the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai and the Taliban, who he has been fighting since the beginning of the decade-long U.S. occupation. As part of the outreach effort, American officials have repeatedly asked the Pakistani government to release a captured Taliban leader. Meanwhile, semi-official talks are ongoing in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintains an office that officially never opened.
“The Doha channel is still being used for contacts between the U.S. and the Taliban,” a senior Pakistani official told The Daily Beast.
Bergdahl, the only living American prisoner of war, went missing in June, 2009, when he wandered away from his base in southeastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. He is believed to be held somewhere in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally. Militants have revealed a total of six videos of Bergdahl in captivity, with various demands in exchange for his release. Their latest demand is that the U.S. release five senior Taliban commanders in Guatanamo who have been imprisoned there for years.