WASHINGTON — In an effort to free American captive Bowe Bergdahl before the bulk of U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this year, the Obama administration has decided to try to resume talks with the Taliban and sweeten an offer to trade prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the Army sergeant, the Washington Post reported Monday, citing current and former officials said.
Five members of the Afghan Taliban who have been held at Guantanamo for years would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is thought to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an allied insurgent group.
To refresh the American offer, which has been on the table for more than two years, senior officials from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies decided within the past month to allow the simultaneous release of all five men, the officials said.
Taliban representatives had objected to the previous plan to release the prisoners in ones or twos as a test of Taliban and Qatari intermediaries' ability to make sure the men did not return to militancy.
Two people familiar with the decision stressed that it was the Taliban that broke off negotiations nearly two years ago and that the U.S. door to talks has been open since. The renewed offer has not been formally made, and no State Department or other officials have immediate plans to travel to Qatar, where any contact facilitated by the Qatari government would take place, they said.
The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that U.S. officials are eager to get the soldier back.
"He's been gone too long," Kirby told reporters during a briefing. "We want him back. We've never stopped trying to bring that about. He's never far from anyone's mind here."
The officials spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity to outline parts of a strategy they described as a last-ditch effort to engage the Taliban.