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'Frustrated': Dad of Taliban prisoner Bowe Bergdahl takes matters into own hands

IntelCenter / AFP - Getty Images

This image taken from a Taliban video and provided by IntelCenter on December 7, 2010, appears to show U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

WASHINGTON -- The father of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier held prisoner by the Taliban since 2009, is so frustrated that more than a year of covert diplomacy has been unable to free his son that he is learning the Pashto language so he can contact militants directly.

Speaking out about his son's case after a long silence, UPS worker Bob Bergdahl urged President Barack Obama's administration to push harder for his release. 


The soldier's father added that he intends to take matters into his own hands, studying Pashto -- the language spoken in southern Afghanistan -- reaching out to regional experts and contacting the media-savvy Taliban through its website.

"I feel that I have to do my job as his father," he said. "I'm working toward a diplomatic and humanitarian solution."

Bob Berghdal said he and his wife Jani are disappointed their son, now 26, remains in danger after almost three years of captivity.

"We believe that Bowe's specific situation is not being addressed," Bergdahl told Reuters in an interview.

Peace talks suspended
The missing serviceman's fate is tied up in U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government, a high-level, high-risk diplomatic initiative which appeared to be on the cusp of a breakthrough before the Taliban suspended preliminary talks in March.

In a separate interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, Bob Bergdahl said there was "a dynamic here that has to change."

"Everybody is frustrated with how slowly the process has evolved," he added. 

Report: Secret US program releases Afghan insurgents

Bob Bergdahl told the newspaper that swapping Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo for his son represents a "win-win" for the United States. He said in addition to his son's safe return, the United States could foster good will with the Afghan people.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was stationed in Paktika province, a hotbed of militant activity, when he disappeared in unclear circumstances on June 30, 2009. He is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, probably somewhere in Pakistan.

April 7, 2010: Rachel Maddow reports the breaking news of a video released by the Taliban which they claim is captured U.S. soldier Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl.

The family appears even more frustrated that prospects for progress seem to have dimmed in Washington, where the idea of negotiating with the shadowy militant group has exposed the White House to political attack in the run-up to the presidential elections.

For months, U.S. negotiators were seeking to arrange the transfer of five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay military prison to the Gulf state of Qatar. The transfer was intended as one of a series of confidence-building measures designed to open the door to political talks between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.

US offers 'safe passage' to Afghan Taliban leaders

That move -- at the center of U.S. strategy for ending the long, costly conflict in Afghanistan -- was also supposed to lead directly to Bowe's release. The Taliban has consistently called for the United States to release those held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for freeing Western prisoners.

Dec. 25, 2009: The family of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded for the release of their son after the Taliban released a video of the infantryman in captivity. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla reports.

The Guantanamo transfer proposal, which would have required notification to Congress, ground to a halt when the Taliban rejected U.S. conditions designed to ensure transferred Taliban would not slip away and re-emerge as military leaders.

While most American officials do not expect that proposal to be taken up again in earnest in the months leading up to the Nov. 6 presidential election, they are exploring alternative steps they hope might rekindle the process.

The prospect of a quick start to peace talks grows more unlikely just as questions mount about what the West, after over 10 years of war in Afghanistan, will be able to accomplish before NATO withdraws most of its troops at the end of 2014.

From the start, the Guantanamo transfer plan drew fire from politicians on Capitol Hill who, according to U.S. law, would have had to closely examine the proposal. The criticism came not just from leading Republicans, but also from some Democrats.

Dec. 26, 2009: A new video of Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl has just been released, and as KTVB's Scott Evans reports, residents in the soldier's hometown of Hailey, Idaho, are 'trying to stay positive."

The Bergdahl family said it believes the opposition may have been too intense at a time when the administration is seeking to burnish Obama's national security credentials. "It doesn't seem like dialogue is even allowed" by Congress, Bergdahl said.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, also has rejected the proposed transfer. "We do not negotiate with terrorists," he said in December.

'Too much risk'
The imprisonment of suspected militants at Guantanamo is an irritant in U.S. relations with Muslim nations including Afghanistan, which has long demanded the release of its citizens held since shortly after the U.S. invasion that toppled the Taliban government in Kabul in 2001.

Bob Bergdahl said he does not advocate an attempt to rescue his son by force. 

"That's too much risk, for too many people," said Bergdahl, who described Bowe as a "soft-spoken," "compassionate" young man who, as a home-schooled youth, was a skilled outdoorsman drawn to martial arts and biking.

A senior U.S. military official told The Associated Press that the Pentagon believes Bergdahl to be alive and in relatively good health. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because efforts to free Bergdahl remain sensitive.

A senior Obama administration official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because of concerns for Bergdahl's safety, told reporters that the case has been a topic at each of several direct meetings that U.S. officials have held with the Taliban. Direct contact, once taboo for the United States, began in secret last year in hopes that the channel could speed larger peace talks with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and ultimately end the long Taliban insurgency.

The official said the U.S. hopes to revive the Bergdahl deal with the Taliban.

July 19, 2009: The kidnapped man, 23-year-old Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl of Ketchum, Idaho, appears in a 28-minute video, telling his captors, "I'm scared." NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.

Marine Col. David Lapan, spokesman for Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the military has a "collaborative" relationship with Bergdahl's family, which is given quarterly updates from Washington. He said the family is not advised on whether to discuss the case with the news media.

"Our message to them is: We are working hard to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl's release, to bring him back into U.S. hands," Lapan said.

Asked about the family's complaint that the U.S. government has not done enough, Lapan said: "It's perfectly understandable that parents whose son has been kept in captivity for several years now are frustrated. We certainly understand that. That's why we do everything thing we can to try to keep them updated, to the extent we can."

He added: "If they are angry and/or frustrated, that is certainly understandable. I would say that our leaders are frustrated as well."

The last time the Bergdahls saw their son was the Christmas holiday of 2008, when he came home from his military service just months before shipping out to Afghanistan.

To solicit support for further action, Bob Bergdahl plans to speak at an annual demonstration to recognize prisoners of war over Memorial Day weekend in Washington. The event, organized by the nonprofit POW support group Rolling Thunder, typically attracts more than 100,000 motorcyclists to the nation's capital.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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