The Afghan Taliban said Sunday that it has canceled talks with the U.S. for the release of an American soldier in exchange for five of its men in U.S. custody, news reports said.
Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has been held captive by the Taliban since 2009, and the U.S. was conducting talks with the group for his release. But, a Taliban spokesperson, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in a statement on Sunday that these talks have been suspended for now and will remain that way until the group decides otherwise, CNN reported.
"The leadership of the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend the process for some time due to the current complex political situation in the country. The process will remain suspended without the exchange of the prisoners until our decision to resume," the statement reportedly said, without clarifying on the reference to the political situation in Afghanistan.
The plan was to trade Bergdahl for five Taliban members who are currently being held in Guantanamo Bay, according to Agence France-Presse, which cited The Post. The U.S. had been trying to hold “extremely sensitive discussions” on the prisoner exchange, as Bergdahl is the only soldier being held captive by the Taliban.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told AFP that "there should be no doubt that we (the U.S.) work every day using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools to try to see Sergeant Bergdahl returned home safely."
According to AFP, this is the first time that either country has openly acknowledged that any talks were being held for the release of the U.S. soldier.
Another statement released by Taliban on Sunday stated that it appreciated Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s move to release 65 prisoners in January, acknowledging it "as a reply to our (Taliban's) previous demands in this regard," CNN reported. The statement also said that a high-ranking delegation met with representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council in the United Arab Emirates.
The U.S. had expressed concern about the release of these prisoners noting at the time that they were "directly linked to attacks killing or wounding" both U.S. and Afghan citizens, and also warned that one of the released prisoners is an explosives expert.
"These individuals are dangerous. They pose threats to the safety and security of the Afghan people and the Afghan state,” Marie Harf, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman reportedly said, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, early on Sunday, the group killed 21 soldiers and kidnapped seven people by attacking a border outpost near Pakistan, causing Karzai to cancel his trip to Sri Lanka.
"President Karzai once again called on Pakistan government that terrorism is a serious threat against both countries and demanded Pakistan to seriously and strongly cooperate with the government of Afghanistan, and take serious action in eliminating terror nests," a statement from his office reportedly said.
Elections will be held in Afghanistan on April 5 to select a successor to Karzai while about 55,000 of the remaining U.S.-led combat troops are planning to pull out of the country.