KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban said Friday that U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was treated well during the five years they held him captive and was even allowed to play soccer with the men holding him.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, told The Associated Press by telephone that Bergdahl was held under "good conditions," and was given fresh fruit and any other foods he requested. "You can ask him in America about his life (in captivity). He will not complain," Mujahid said.
The question of Bergdahl's well-being is part of a fierce debate in Washington over whether the U.S. should have negotiated for his release on Saturday in exchange for five Taliban detainees who had been held at Guantanamo Bay.
Mujahid's statements could not be verified. Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was captured after he walked away from his base in June 2009 and U.S. officials believed he was mainly held by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group affiliated with the Taliban, in Pakistan. He was handed over to the U.S. in a remote area of Khost province, near the Pakistani border.
Mujahid said Bergdahl was held in different locations inside Afghanistan, without providing further details. He said the soldier enjoyed playing soccer as well as reading, including English-language books about Islam.
Since Bergdahl's release senior officials, including President Barack Obama, have said the prisoner swap that involved the release of five high-profile Taliban detainees from Guantanamo Bay, and which has caused a furor in the United States, was hastened by concerns the Army sergeant's physical health was deteriorating.
But the Obama administration later told senators it did not notify Congress about the pending swap because of intelligence the Taliban might kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public, congressional and administration officials said Thursday.
Mujahid said he could not immediately comment on whether the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl, who is currently recovering at a military hospital in Germany.
Several administration and congressional officials said a December video shown to senators in a briefing portrayed Bergdahl's health as in decline but not so desperately that he required an emergency rescue. An assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies about the video in January came to the same conclusion, said two congressional officials familiar with it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
Taliban fighters freed Bergdahl Saturday and turned him over to a U.S. special operations team in eastern Afghanistan. Under the deal, five Taliban militants were released from Guantanamo and flown to Qatar, where they are to remain for a year under conditions that have not been spelled out in public.
A federal law requires Congress to be told 30 days before a prisoner is released from Guantanamo, but Obama administration officials said it did not apply in what they deemed an emergency situation.