Unconfirmed reports from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirm the release of three prisoners being held at the Guantanamo Bay. Former interior minister Mullah Khair Khowa, former governor Noorullah Noori, and former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund were released by U.S. military, according to reports by UPI. There has been no independent confirmation from the U.S. government.
The Taliban were seeking the release of senior prisoners that have been held since 2002 at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility operated by the U.S. military. The prisoner exchange is one condition for the Taliban to open a political bureau office in Qatar. The United States and Germany have sought such an office so that peace negotiations can take place. It appears those obstacles have been overcome.
Neither Taliban nor UPI could confirm whether U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 25, of Idaho, was to be released as a condition of the deal or as a sign of goodwill. Bergdahl has been held for nearly three years at an undisclosed location believed to be in eastern Afghanistan or western Pakistan – rugged mountain terrain. Five videos have been released showing Bergdahl – generally a bit gaunt, but appears healthy and in good condition.
The White House has made no mention of Bergdahl during these negotiations. Reuters UK reported that last Friday members of select congressional committees were notified of a potential prisoner swap in accordance with U.S. law governing the release of Guantanamo prisoners. Several members have indicated they may object to the transfer, although President Barack Obama has authority to waive congressional objections under certain conditions.
Last summer, Pentagon officials said Bergdahl’s safe return was their highest priority. The United States has a long-standing policy to not negotiate with terrorists, but he is considered a military prisoner of war. While there has been no mention of Bergdahl (by name) in any of the negotiations, there has been mention of an “American prisoner of war being held in Afghanistan.” Bergdahl is the only known American prisoner being held captive there.