Taliban Propose Swapping Captured US Soldier for Five Guantanamo Detainees

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The talks in Qatar may be on hold but the Taliban have already presented the United States with a proposal. They want to exchange a US soldier they've been holding captive for five senior Taliban operatives being held by the US at Guantanamo. The soldier is US Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from Idaho. He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan in June of 2009, and is believed to be held in Pakistan. Kathy Gannon covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press. She�s currently in Islamabad. Gannon was the first to learn about the possible deal during an exclusive interview she had with a Taliban official named Shaheen Suhail.

Kathy Gannon: I spoke with a senior Taliban person at their office in Doha, a Taliban that I have known for quite some time, that I knew during the Taliban government between 1996 and 2001, before the US-led coalition attacked Afghanistan. And he said during a conversation that we had, an exclusive conversation that we had today on the telephone. We were talking, I had heard that there might be some Afghans released from Guantanamo and I asked him about this. And as we were discussing it, the details of what the Taliban were prepared to do, which was to swap Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for the five senior Taliban officials, or however you like to describe them, that have been in Guantanamo Bay.

Werman: Since we've been speaking we've learned from sources in Washington that there seems to be a welcome to this idea of a prisoner exchange. Tell me, though, what do you know of any of these five men who are at Guantanamo?

Gannon: They're a mix. Some of them are, I mean, one is a former intelligence official. They were senior people with the Taliban government. Khairkhwa was a governor of Herat. He also was actually a friend of Hamid Karzai's in another life. I certainly would describe them as senior Taliban. I don't think they are probably any more dangerous than any of the Taliban who have joined with the government or who have been released. They have all said that they would like to go to Doha, apparently, not to Afghanistan. So they are clearly not interested on going back to the battlefield, or at least it would seem that way from the earlier involvement of them in the talks.

Werman: Several years ago the US and the Taliban discussed prisoner exchanges but Afghan President Hamid Karzai seemed to put the kibosh on it. What's different this time around?

Gannon: I don't know that President Karzai won't try to stop it again this time, because again it would be that they come to Doha. But perhaps what is different is that President Karzai has accepted the office of the Taliban in Doha, so he might be willing to accept their release as part of a prisoner exchange, as a gesture to move things forward. The way Shaheen Suhail put it, the Taliban spokesman in Doha, is that they want the prisoner exchange to be the first issue, or the first point, of the agenda. They want that settled, and then they will move on from there, to build bridges, as he put it, to go forward and to set an agenda that presumably all sides hope will lead to some sort of a resolution or some sort of an agreement that will allow for some peaceful transition after 2014 and the end to combat, international combat troops in Afghanistan.

Werman: Kathy Gannon is the Special Regional Correspondent for the Associated Press in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She's also the author of ââ?¬Å?I for Infidel.ââ?¬  Kathy, thanks so very much.

Gannon: Thank you, Marco, very much.