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Freed soldier's ex: 'What do I do now?'

Monica Lee was 19 when her boyfriend Bowe Bergdahl was kidnapped by the Taliban. He has just been released after five years in captivity, Monica meanwhile has moved on with her life, finding love elsewhere.

PT1M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39cqh 620 349

Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan: The sole American prisoner of war held in Afghanistan was flown to a US military hospital in Germanyafter being freed in a swap deal for five Taliban militants who were released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had been held for nearly five years and his release, following years of negotiations, suddenly became possible after harder-line factions of the Afghan Taliban shifted course and agreed to back it, US officials said.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said he hoped the exchange might lead to breakthroughs in reconciliation with the militants.

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009 Photo: AFP

He denied accusations from some Republicans the swap resulted from US negotiations with terrorists, saying it had been worked out by the government of Qatar.

"We didn't negotiate with terrorists," Mr Hagel said in on US television network NBC. "As I said and explained before, Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war. That's a normal process in getting your prisoners back."

Sergeant Bergdahl, 28, was handed over at about 6pm local time on Saturday, a senior official said. The Afghan Taliban said they had released him near the border with Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl said they had not yet spoken to their son.

Bob and Jani Bergdahl said they had not yet spoken to their son. Photo: AP

He arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany on Sunday. After receiving care Sergeant  Bergdahl would be transferred to another military medical facility in San Antonio, Texas, US defence officials said, without giving a date for his return to the United States.

His parents, appearing at a news conference in Boise, Idaho, said he needed time to decompress and his recovery was a "work in progress".

Bob and Jani Bergdahl said they had not yet spoken to their son. They began the news conference with an open message to him, saying how much they loved him and admired his resilience through the long years of captivity.

A video released by the Taliban in 2010 containing footage of Bowe Bergdahl.

A video released by the Taliban in 2010 containing footage of Bowe Bergdahl. Photo: AP

Sergeant Bergdahl was the only known missing US soldier in the Afghan war that began soon after the September 2001 attacks on the United States. He was captured in unknown circumstances in eastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, about two months after arriving in the country.

Many US government officials believe Sergeant Bergdahl was captured after walking away from his unit in violation of  US military regulations. But a US official has strongly suggested that he was unlikely to be disciplined.

"Our mission now is getting Sergeant Bergdahl healthy and back to his parents," the official said.

The Afghan Taliban said earlier they had released Sergeant Bergdahl near the border with Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan.

A US defence official said Sergeant Bergdahl became emotional on his way to freedom, after being handed over to  US special forces.

"Once he was on the helicopter, he wrote on a paper plate, 'SF?'" the official said, referring to the abbreviation for special forces. "The operators replied loudly: 'Yes, we've been looking for you for a long time.' And at this point, Sergeant Bergdahl broke down."

In exchange for Sergeant Bergdahl's freedom, the US released five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo. A senior Gulf source confirmed they had arrived on Sunday in Doha, capital of Qatar, the Gulf emirate that acted as intermediary in the negotiations.

They would not be permitted to leave Qatar for a year, the source said, adding that their families had been flown from Afghanistan.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said Qatar got involved in the case because it was a "humanitarian cause".

US officials referred to the release of the Taliban detainees as a transfer and said the restrictions placed on them included monitoring of their activities.

Those assurances were greeted with scepticism by US Republicans and some Afghan officials, who voiced concerns that the men, described as senior Taliban figures, would rejoin the insurgency against the government in Kabul.

"They will be very dangerous people, because they have connections with regional and international terror organisations around the world," a senior Afghan intelligence official said.

There was no immediate comment from the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who Mr Hagel said had not been told in advance of the prisoner exchange.

In Washington some Republicans said the prisoner swap amounted to a negotiation with terrorists. Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called it a "dangerous price" to pay.

Reuters