Obama, parents thank those who arranged for release
Plane carrying detainees leaves Navy base in Cuba
American soldier captured by Taliban in June 2009
Five detainees are being sent from Guantanamo to Qatar in exchange
President Barack Obama, flanked by the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the White House on Saturday, praised the diplomatic officials and troops who helped secure the release of the American soldier held captive for nearly five years by militants during the Afghanistan war.
Bergdahl was released in exchange for five Guantanamo detainees, officials said.
The government of Qatar, which helped broker the release, pledged to “put in place measures to protect our national security,” Obama said at the White House Rose Garden.
“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten,” the President said.
Bergdahl’s mother, Jani, said, “We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers.”
Bob Bergdahl said he was not sure whether his son still speaks English and spoke at one point in what appeared to be Pashtun.
“I’m your father, Bowe,” the father said.
Members of the White House national security team – including Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco – grew emotional when the parents thanked those who helped secure their son’s release.
Bergdahl, the only remaining U.S. soldier captured during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, was recovered by U.S. special operations forces without incident about 10:30 a.m. ET at a “pick-up” point in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, a senior Department of Defense official told CNN. There were 18 armed Taliban members present.
Once he was on an American helicopter, Bergdahl, 28, used a paper plate to communicate because of the noise. He wrote, “SF?” meaning, “special forces?”
One of the operators sitting with Bergdahl responded loudly: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time,” according to the official.
Bergdahl broke down crying.
‘Cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son’
Earlier, the White House said in a statement, “Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that he had informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl, who was the only remaining American soldier captured from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After Bergdahl was handed over, a series of secret procedures were set in motion so each side knew the other was living up to the bargain, according to U.S. Defense officials. Qatari officials were already at Guantanamo and took custody of the detainees. They assured the Taliban that the detainees would be flown to Qatar.
The Afghan Taliban issued a statement on its website in Arabic and Pashto announcing with “great happiness and joy” the exchange of Bergdahl for five of its imprisoned senior leaders.
It said, “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was and has been for a long time attempting to free all the imprisoned Afghan prisoners inside and outside the country.”