US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he hopes a prisoner-exchange deal with the Taliban that led to the release of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl after five years might lead to breakthroughs in reconciliation with the Afghan militants.
Bergdahl, the last US prisoner of the Afghan war, was handed over to US special forces yesterday in an exchange swap for five Taliban detainees who were released from Guantanamo Bay prison and flown to Qatar.
Hagel said: "This was a prisoner of war exchange ... our focus was on the return of Sergeant Bergdahl and maybe this could provide some possible new bridge for new negotiations."
"The timing was right, the pieces came together," he added.
Celebrations were held on Saturday in the hometown of an American soldier freed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Yellow balloons and messages of support were placed outside Zaney's River Street Coffee House, where Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl worked before deployment.
Stephanie O'Neill, a Hailey resident said that the parents Jani and Bob Bergdahl "never once lost hope that their son would make it home".
The father of freed US Sergeant Bergdahl is believed to have learnt the language of his son's captors to have a better chance to communicate with them.
Sue Martin, owner of Zaney's, a Hailey coffee shop where Bowe Bergdahl once worked, said the Bergdahls shared credit for their son's release.
"It is unprecedented when a father learns the language of his son's captors so he can communicate directly with them".
"Bob and Jani spent all their waking hours since Bowe was captured working for his safe return home."
Bergdahl was captured under unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan by militants on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country.
President Obama has violated US laws when he approved the exchange between US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and five senior Taliban fighters held in Guantanamo Bay, two Republicans have claimed.
Howard McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and James Inhofe, senior Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr Obama "clearly violated laws" requiring him to give 30 days' notification.
But a senior US official said the administration had seized on a chance to save Bergdahl. "The administration determined that given these unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement," the official said.
The White House has said that officials considered what they called "unique and exigent circumstances" and decided to go ahead with the transfer of Guantanamo detainees in exchange for US Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
The detainees are among the most senior Afghans still held at the prison. They are:
- Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence.
- Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001.
- Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.
- Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan.
- Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.
Newly-released US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is on his way from Afghanistan to a US military hospital in Landstuhl in Germany, a US defence official has said.
The father of the US soldier released after five years in Afghanistan has said that Bowe Bergdahl was having problems understanding English. Speaking in Pashto to reporters at the White House, he said: "I am your father".
President Obama thanked the Qatari and Afghan governments for cooperating with the US after US sergeant Bergdahl was released today after five years in captivity.
Addressing reporters in the Rose Garden at the White House, Mr Obama said: "While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten." He added that the US had an ironclad commitment to bring soldiers home and that he would never give up the search for soldiers.
Mr Obama also said that the Qatari and Afghan governments had assured him that despite the release of five Taliban fighters from Guantanamo Bay, they would protect US national security.
An American soldier who was held by the Taliban for almost five years, has been freed. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is now in US custody.
As part of the deal, five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been handed over to Qatar.
ITV News Correspondent Harry Smith reports:
Five Taliban detainees being released in a deal that freed US Sergeant Bergdahl have left Guantanamo prison in US military aircraft en route to Qatar, a US Defense official said.