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Tuesday 2 September 2014

Taliban 'demanded release secrecy'

Published 05/06/2014 | 03:02

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A video image shows Sgt Bowe Bergdahl sitting in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan before his release (AP /Voice Of Jihad Website)
Flags and balloons outside a shop in the Hailey, Idaho, mark Sgt Bergdahl's freedom (AP)

The Obama administration has reportedly told US senators it did not notify Congress about the pending swap of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban captives because the Taliban had threatened to kill him if the deal was made public before it happened.

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Three congressional officials said that threat - and not just concerns that the captive's health might be failing -drove the Obama administration to quickly make a deal to rescue Sgt Bergdahl.

The threat had been relayed by Qatari officials at the height of the negotiations.

Defence secretary Chuck Hagel was referring in part to the threat when he said on Sunday that "there was a question about his safety", the officials told the senators in a closed-door briefing.

Meanwhile, Sgt Bergdahl's health is improving daily and he is resting more comfortably and becoming more involved in a treatment plan designed to ease his return to the US, a military spokesman said.

But there is no date set for him to make his first phone call to his family in Idaho or to be transferred from a US military hospital in Germany to an Army hospital in Texas, according to Colonel Steve Warren.

Sgt Bergdahl was released on Saturday in Afghanistan by his Taliban captors after five years.

Col Warren said Sgt Bergdahl is conversing with staff at the Landstuhl medical centre in Germany, but he declined to reveal specifics about Sgt Bergdahl's medical condition or what he has said or done since being released .

It came as Barack Obama repeated that he "absolutely makes no apologies" for seeking the release of Sgt Bergdahl in a prisoner swap with the Taliban.

When it comes to getting soldiers back from war, the president said, "we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back".

He said Sgt Bergdahl's health had been deteriorating in captivity and "we were deeply concerned about it".

"We saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that," Mr Obama said during a news conference at the G7 summit in Brussels.

Five Taliban detainees held in Guantanamo were released as part of the exchange, brokered by Qatar. Republicans and Democrats have objected to the swap.

Mr Obama said his administration had discussed the possibility of such an exchange with members of Congress in the past. But he did not notify policy makers in advance that he planned to release Guantanamo detainees. He is required to provide such notice 30 days ahead of a release.

"Because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important go ahead and do what we did," he said.

He also defended his announcement of the release, which he did on Saturday at the White House with Sgt Bergdahl's parents at his side.

"It was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction, this is not a political football," he said.

"You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn't seen in five years and weren't sure whether they'd ever see again."

He said that as commander in chief of US military forces, he has a responsibility for soldiers.

"I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child and that we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back."

Press Association

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