Zee Media Bureau
Kabul: In a rare public statement, Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar on Sunday hailed the release of five senior insurgents in exchange for US soldier Bowe Bergdahl as a `big victory`.
"I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the entire Afghan Muslim nation, all the mujahideen and to the families and relatives of the prisoners for this big victory regarding the release of five Taliban leaders from Guantanamo prison," Omar said.
He added, “I thank the government of Qatar, especially its emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad (Al Thani), who made sincere efforts for release of these leaders and for their mediation and for hosting them."
Mullah Omar was Afghanistan`s de facto head of state during their 1996-2001 rule over Afghanistan. He has continued to lead the group`s insurgency since they were ousted from power.
His current whereabouts are unconfirmed but some observers believe he is hiding inside Pakistan.
Yesterday, a US soldier seized by the Taliban nearly five years ago in Afghanistan released after five Taliban leaders held in Guantanamo Bay were let off, US and Taliban officials said.
The Taliban prisoners were released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and handed over to Qatar, which mediated the transfer.
Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed over to US forces in good health, BBC quoted American officials as saying. He was the only US soldier held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Taliban, in a statement posted on its official web site today confirmed the swap.
It identified the five "key leaders" as Mullah Mohammad Fazil Akhund, Mullah Nurullah Nuri, Mullah Khairullah Khairkhah, Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq and Mawlawi Mohammad Nabi.
The five were arrested by the US in 2001 after ousting the militant regime in Afghanistan.
US President Barack Obama said earlier: "On behalf of the American people, I was honoured to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return.”
“Sergeant Bergdahl`s recovery is a reminder of America`s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield," he added.
Bergdahl, captured in Afghanistan June 30, 2009, is now under the care of the US military, Xinhua quoted Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as saying.
As part of Bergdahl`s release, the US agreed to turn over the five Taliban detainees to the custody of Qatar.
With agency inputs