US & Canada

Bowe Bergdahl in 'stable' condition in Germany

Bowe Bergdahl Image copyright AFP
Image caption A video grab image from 2010 showed Sgt Bergdahl in captivity

A US soldier freed after five years in Taliban captivity is in stable condition in a US military hospital in Germany, officials have said.

Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, 28, is being treated after his release on Saturday in exchange for five senior Afghan Taliban figures held at Guantanamo Bay.

The prisoner swap has been criticised by Republicans who warn it could put Americans at risk in the future.

How he was captured is unclear, with some accusing him of being a deserter.

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Media captionArmy medic Nathan Bethea tells 5 live: "He must have deserted"

There is speculation he may have walked away from his base out of disillusionment with the US campaign in Afghanistan.

But his hometown of Hailey, Idaho, is preparing to welcome him back as a hero, with a homecoming event later this month.

"We love Bowe and we're just glad that he's safe," Stefanie O'Neill, a family friend and organiser, told CNN.

It is unclear how long Sgt Bergdahl will remain in hospital, where he is receiving treatment for "dietary and nutrition needs", the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center wrote in a statement.

The desertion debate

Image copyright AFP

There are questions regarding exactly how Sgt Bergdahl was captured by Taliban forces in 2009, with some reports indicating that he left his post without authorisation.

In the Daily Beast, soldier-turned-journalist Nathan Bradley Bethea details his experience as part of the extensive search-and-rescue effort the US military conducted after Sgt Bergdahl's disappearance - and its cost.

"Bergdahl was a deserter," he writes, "and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down."

Other soldiers emphasised that the US pledge to rescue captured troops, no matter the cost, is a comfort to those in combat.

Soldiers conflicted on Bergdahl release

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed the criticism, saying the exchange "was absolutely the right thing to do".

"The United States does not leave our men and women behind in conflict," Mr Carney said.

Sgt Bergdahl was handed over to US commandos in Afghanistan on Saturday in a rare peaceful encounter between two military forces who have been fighting one another for more than ten years.

The five Guantanamo detainees, who have been turned over to the custody of the Qatari government, are thought to be the most senior Afghans held at the US detention facility in Cuba, having been captured during America's military campaign in 2001.

In an emotional address on Sunday, Sgt Bergdahl's father, Robert Bergdahl, said he was proud of how far his son was willing to go to help the Afghan people, but warned that his recovery would take a long time.

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Media captionVideo has emerged purporting to show the Taliban prisoners arriving in Qatar

Several Republicans have spoken out against the deal, warning that it set a worrying precedent and amounted to negotiating with terrorists.

On Sunday, Republican Senator John McCain, who was himself held prisoner in Vietnam for years, said the detainees were some of the "highest high-risk people".

Mr McCain said the Taliban released were "possibly responsible for the deaths of thousands" and may have "the ability to re-enter the fight", in comments to CBS TV.

Questions were raised over the legality of the deal, after the Obama administration did not give Congress the 30 days' notice required by law before initiating the transfer of the Taliban detainees.

But US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military had to act quickly "to essentially save his life".

"We didn't negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back," he told NBC.

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Media captionJani and Bob Bergdahl spoke of their love and pride for their son, Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, and said he would need time to ''decompress''

The Afghan government, which was not informed until after the exchange had taken place, also condemned it as a "breach of international law" and urged the US and Qatar to "let the men go free".

"No state can transfer another country's citizen to a third country and put restriction on their freedom," the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.

In a rare public statement on Sunday, Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar described the exchange as a "big victory".

But President Barack Obama said that he had received security guarantees from Qatar - which mediated the deal - "that it will put in place measures to protect our national security".

They have been banned from leaving Qatar for at least a year.

Sgt Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was the only US soldier being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He was serving with an infantry regiment in Paktika province, near the Pakistani border, when he went missing on 30 June 2009.

Who are the Guantanamo detainees?

Mohammad Fazl served as the Taliban's deputy defence minister during America's military campaign in 2001. Accused of possible war crimes, including the murder of thousands of Shia Muslims and others including Pashtuns and Tajiks.

Khairullah Khairkhwa was a senior Taliban official serving as interior minister and governor of Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city.

Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban's deputy minister of intelligence. Said to have been central in forming alliances with other Islamist groups.

Mullah Norullah Noori was a senior Taliban military commander and a governor. Also accused of being involved in the mass killings of Shia Muslims and others.

Mohammad Nabi Omari is alleged to have been involved in attacks against US and coalition forces, with close links to the Haqqani network.

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