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U.S. soldier free after almost five years captivity in Afghanistan

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held for nearly five years by the Taliban after being captured in Afghanistan, has been released and is now in U.S. custody after years of on and off negotiations, U.S. officials said on Saturday.

As part of Bergdahl’s release, the United States is turning over five Taliban detainees at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the custody of Qatar, the officials said.

Bergdahl’s freedom followed a renewed round of indirect U.S.-Taliban talks in recent months, with Qatar acting as intermediary, the officials said.

President Barack Obama announced the release, saying he had called Bergdahl’s parents to let them know.

U.S. special operations forces took custody of Bergdahl in a non-violent exchange with Taliban members in eastern Afghanistan, the officials said, adding that he was believed to be in good condition. He was now undergoing a medical examination in Afghanistan.

The exchange took place at about 6 p.m. local time on Saturday, which was at 10:30 a.m. Washington time, a senior official said.

Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, was the only known missing U.S. soldier in the Afghan war that was launched soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States to dislodge the Taliban from power. He was captured under unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan by militants on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country.

“Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years,” Obama said in a statement.

“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal.”

The Bergdahl family was in Washington when news of the release broke, a senior U.S. defense official said, without giving details.

Obama announced this week that he would keep 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, mostly to train Afghan forces, after NATO combat operations cease at the end of 2014. The last soldiers, aside from a small presence at U.S. diplomatic posts, will leave at the end of 2016.

Bergdahl’s release could be a national security boost for Obama, whose foreign policy has come under widespread criticism in recent months.

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