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Taliban offer to swap American hostage for Guantanamo Bay inmates


June 20, 2013 - The Taliban are ready to free the only American soldier they hold captive in return for the release of five of their senior leaders from Guantanamo Bay.With the two sides on the brink of peace talks, envoys for the insurgent movement suggested the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl could serve as a confidence building measure with the US. The 27-year-old soldier was seized four years ago.The Taliban has just opened a political office in Doha, capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, to host negotiations with America and the Afghan government.However, according to senior figures in the group, the prisoner exchange is the first item on their agenda.The talks themselves were still mired in diplomatic wrangling yesterday, with the Afghan government apparently unhappy at how the Taliban had used the opening of its office to secure a propaganda victory...

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Taliban offer to swap American hostage for Guantanamo Bay inmates

Rob Crilly

June 20, 2013

The Taliban are ready to free the only American soldier they hold captive in return for the release of five of their senior leaders from Guantanamo Bay.

With the two sides on the brink of peace talks, envoys for the insurgent movement suggested the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl could serve as a confidence building measure with the US. The 27-year-old soldier was seized four years ago.

The Taliban has just opened a political office in Doha, capital of the Gulf state of Qatar, to host negotiations with America and the Afghan government.

However, according to senior figures in the group, the prisoner exchange is the first item on their agenda.

The talks themselves were still mired in diplomatic wrangling yesterday, with the Afghan government apparently unhappy at how the Taliban had used the opening of its office to secure a propaganda victory.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, became enraged after the Taliban flew their white flag above the office and unveiled a plaque saying it represented the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" ľ the name they used while in power.

Sohail Shaheen, spokesman for the office in Doha, said 27-year-old Sgt Bergdahl was "in good condition", as far as he knew, and said any peace process had to begin with a prisoner swap.

"First has to be the release of detainees," Mr Shaheen told the AP news agency, when asked about Sgt Bergdahl. "Yes, it would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."

Sgt Bergdahl, from Idaho, disappeared from his base in south-eastern Afghanistan in June 2009.

The Taliban have in the past asked for the release of five senior leaders held in Guantanamo Bay, including Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mullah Mohammed Fazl.

A prisoner swap was first discussed in 2011, but put on hold during the following year's American presidential election campaign amid White House fears it would look like Barack Obama was making concessions to terrorists.

Washington said the fate of Sgt Bergdahl was a priority and confirmed his release would be on the talks' agenda.

Jennifer Psaki, spokesman for the US State Department, said: "The issue of Sgt Bergdahl and the fact that he's been gone so long will be part of the discussion."

She also said she still hoped talks in Doha would still place "in the coming days", but said James Dobbins, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan expected to lead the US delegation, was still in Washington.

She said: "He is packed and ready to go, with his passport and suitcase."

Any new talks in Doha remain in doubt for the time being after President Karzai pulled out of the peace process within 24 hours of the Taliban office opening.

Talks scheduled for Thursday were cancelled after Mr Karzai became enraged the Taliban had flown their white flag above their new office and unveiled a plaque saying it represented the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" ľ the name they used while in power.

Officials said the Afghan government felt tricked after receiving assurances the new office would not lend the insurgents legitimacy as an alternative government.

The office name plaque was hastily removed after pressure from the Qatar government, but the offending flag was still flying at a reduced height inside the compound walls.

The symbolism of the flag raising was underlined by Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan who said they were happy to see it raised above their office. But frontline fighters also said they had sacrificed too much to join negotiations until US forces had left Afghanistan.

Mullah Ihsanullah Akhund, leader of a Taliban band in Helmand province, where British troops are based, said: "I was delighted to hear that the Taliban has raised the flag of Islamic emirate, but who knows what happens next? Maybe our leaders will agree on a compromise and forget about their goals."

Another fighter, Mohammed Hashim from Chinarto district of Uruzgan, said Mr Karzai's government was riddled with corruption and its word could not be trusted.

"When a person is ready to get killed or kill the enemy, then he does not care of talks," he said by telephone.

"If anyone representing us goes and talks with our enemy in luxury and air-conditioned places, we won't accept their decisions."

Graeme Smith, an analyst in Kabul with the International Crisis Group, said an attack in May on the International Committee of the Red Cross in Jalalabad, which was later disowned by the Taliban, suggested a fragmenting insurgency with freelance operations being carried out.

"You'll hear from fighters they don't have much interest in what's going on in Qatar," he said.

"The negotiators may be the best available at the moment but they haven't yet shown any evidence that they control events on the ground."


Source: The Telegraph

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:: Article nr. 98584 sent on 25-jun-2013 03:02 ECT

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