- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Pentagon’s two top leaders said Thursday the Obama administration is working to secure the freedom of a U.S. soldier taken prisoner three years ago in Afghanistan, despite an impasse in talks to trade him for Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We’re doing everything possible to see if we can make [his release] happen,” Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta told reporters who asked about the status of 26-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The Army sergeant’s parents, Bob Bergdahl and his wife, Jani, frustrated with the lack of progress in the case, went public Wednesday with details about secret negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the case remains a top priority.

“I can assure you we’re doing everything in our power to find and locate [their son],” he said, adding that a 4-foot by 3-foot poster of Sgt. Bergdahl sits next to a podium at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., “to remind us every day that he remains missing in action.”

The Hailey, Idaho, soldier was captured in June 2009 and is believed to be held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, most likely somewhere in Pakistan.

The Obama administration has proposed swapping five Taliban prisoners long held at Guantanamo Bay for the sergeant.

As part of the peace talks with the Taliban meant to end the decade-long war in Afghanistan, Obama administration officials were negotiating an arrangement that would send the Taliban prisoners to Qatar, where they would be under some form of house arrest or supervision in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl.

But the proposed deal has been in limbo for months and faces stiff opposition in Congress.

Talks broke down in mid-March with the Taliban complaining that the Obama administration was reneging on some of the agreements, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, came out firmly against the deal, arguing that the Taliban prisoners in question were too senior and dangerous to transfer to another government’s control.

On another issue, both men said a new internal military report has found that the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is going “very well.”

“I have not found any negative effect on good order or discipline,” Gen. Dempsey said.

Mr. Panetta also said the Pentagon’s new policy allowing openly gay and lesbian service members to stay on active duty hasn’t hurt military performance.

“It’s not impacting morale, or impacting unit cohesion or readiness,” he said.



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