Kabul: The Afghan Taliban are ready to free a US soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their senior operatives imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay as a conciliatory gesture, a senior spokesman for the group said on Thursday.
The offer came as an Afghan government spokesman said President Hamid Karzai is now willing to join planned peace talks with the Taliban, provided that the Taliban flag and nameplate are removed from the militant group`s newly opened political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state of Qatar. Karzai also wants a formal letter from the United States supporting the Afghan government.
The only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war is US Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho.
He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed held in Pakistan.
In an exclusive telephone interview with The Associated Press from his Doha office, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail said today that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition."
Suhail did not elaborate on Bergdahl`s current whereabouts. Among the five prisoners the Taliban have consistently requested are Khairullah Khairkhwa, a former Taliban governor of Herat, and Mullah Mohammed Fazl, a former top Taliban military commander, both of whom have been held for more than a decade.
Bergdahl`s parents earlier this month received a letter from their son through the International Committee of the Red Cross. They did not release details of the letter but renewed their plea for his release. The soldier`s captivity has been marked by only sporadic releases of videos and information about his whereabouts.
The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban`s agenda before even opening peace talks, said Suhail, who is a top Taliban figure and served as first secretary at the Afghan Embassy in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad before the Taliban government`s ouster in 2001.
"First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."