Freed US soldier arrives at military hospital

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The US soldier freed in Afghanistan after being held for nearly five years by insurgents has arrived at an American military hospital in Germany.

It is not immediately clear how long Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl will stay there before continuing to the United States.

The Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre said in a statement that Sgt Bergdahl arrived at the facility in south-western Germany yesterday morning.

The hospital said its staff “will evaluate his condition, begin any necessary medical care and assist in his recovery process.” It added that they are “sensitive to what Sgt Bergdahl has been through and will proceed with his reintegration at a pace with which he is comfortable”.

The hospital said there is “no pre-determined amount of time” for the reintegration process.

Sgt Bergdahl was freed by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

He was handed over to US special forces by the Taliban on Saturday, in an area of eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.

Officials said the exchange was not violent and the 28-year-old was in good condition and able to walk.

“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten,” President Barack Obama said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, where he was joined by Sgt Bergdahl’s parents.

“The United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”

The handover followed indirect negotiations between the US and the Taliban, with the government of Qatar serving as the go-between.

Qatar is taking custody of the five Afghan detainees that had been held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

According to a senior defence official travelling with US defence secretary Chuck Hagel in Singapore, once Sgt Bergdahl climbed on to the noisy helicopter he took a pen and wrote on a paper plate, the letters “SF?” – asking the troops if they were special operations forces.

They shouted back at him over the roar of the rotors: “Yes, we’ve been looking for you for a long time.”

Then, according to the official, Sgt Bergdahl broke down and cried.

Mr Hagel, who travelled to Afghanistan to meet US troops, said Sgt Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy” and officials had to act quickly to obtain his release.

At Bagram Air Field, Mr Hagel thanked the special operations forces that participated in the rescue. General Joseph Dunford said there was a sense of excitement in the headquarters as the news spread.

“You almost got choked up,” he said. “It was pretty extraordinary. It has been almost five years and he is home.”

Sgt Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, is believed to have been held by the Haqqani network since June 30, 2009.