US & Canada

New hope for US prisoner of Taliban Bowe Bergdahl

Supporters of Bowe Bergdahl at the Bring Bowe Back rally in Idaho (22 June 2013)
Image caption Scores of Harley Davidson riders joined the Bring Bowe Back rally in the missing soldier's hometown in Idaho

They were heard before they were seen. More than 100 Harley-Davidsons growled into the remote town of Hailey on a warm Saturday afternoon.

They had ridden from as far away as Utah, California and Nevada, cutting through the vast russet coloured mountains of Idaho to this small Sun Valley community.

The motorbikes arrived in a cloud of dust that dazzled with chrome. Leading the line was the father of Bowe Bergdahl, riding the motorcycle of his missing son.

He was joined by dozens of military veterans and members of various clubs - from the Desert Eagles to the Snake River Brothers.

It was a powerful, petrol-soaked show of support for the Bergdahl family of Hailey.

Four years ago this month, US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He is now 27 years old.

Videos of him have been released by the Taliban and earlier in June Bob and Jenny Bergdahl received a letter from their son, America's only remaining prisoner of war in the 12-year-conflict with Afghanistan.

One of the riders, Jim Driscol from Nevada, said he could not imagine what the family had gone through.

"I lost a son and I know what the closure was like. To have to live as long as they have worried about the knock at the door, I don't know how they do it," he said.

In the park where he used to play, the bikers and people from the town gathered to remember their missing soldier and call again for his release.

A country band called the Paddywagons ensured the mood wasn't too sombre.

And this year there was hope that Bowe Bergdahl may soon be released.

'Not forgotten'

While talks between the US, the Afghan government and the Taliban struggle to start, last week the Taliban offered a prisoner exchange to build confidence between the sides. The idea has been floated before, but the deal was never done.

This time the Taliban said it could trade Sgt Bergdahl's freedom for the release of five of their own from Guantanamo Bay. It's a controversial idea and the US hasn't given any hints of what it might do. But it's brought hope to the town of Hailey.

Image caption The Taliban have released several videos purporting to show Sgt Bowe Bergdahl in captivity

Rick Davis, the former mayor of Hailey, said Sgt Bergdahl's captivity had been a rollercoaster for the town.

He, like many here, wouldn't say whether they thought the Taliban swap deal was fair or not.

"I'm not informed about the operatives they want released. That's up to President Obama and the people in the know," he says. "We just hope that something happens that makes it work so Bowe comes home."

In the afternoon sunshine, after the Star-Spangled Banner had been sung, Bob Bergdahl took to the stage.

For the past four years he has been growing a beard in solidarity with his son.

He has also learnt to speak Pashtun and had this message for the people of Afghanistan: "May the peace of God and the blessings that come from God be upon you."

Speaking in Pashtun, he asked the Taliban for the address of their office in Doha. "Do you have the information? Please tell me," he gently implored.

And then he said in English: "Bowe, my son, if you can hear me, you are part of the peace process. You are part of ending the Afghan war as we have known for some time.

"I will not leave you on the battlefield. Your country will not leave you on the battlefield. You are not forgotten.

"Mothers all over the world are suffering because of this war and I don't forget that for even one day."

The crowd cheered his courage and sentiment. Whether he knows it or not, Bowe Bergdahl is now at the centre of complex negotiations between the US and the Taliban.

But however his freedom is won, this tight-knit mountain town just wants its missing son back.