PESHAWAR, Pakistan - The Afghan Taliban say they have suspended talks that the United States reportedly had hoped would result in the return of prisoner of war Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
“The latest round of talks with U.S. in Qatar was suspended on the directive of our spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar,” a senior Taliban commander told NBC News by telephone from Afghanistan on Sunday. “The rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan is the key factor behind suspension of negotiations.”
He did not elaborate on what was meant by the rapidly changing situation in the country, which is due to see presidential elections in April and the draw-down of most foreign troops by the end of the year.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the Obama administration was taking steps it hoped could lead to a resumption of peace talks to end the conflict and a proposed swap of Taliban detainees in Guantanamo Bay in return for Bergdahl.
Bergdahl has been held prisoner since going missing from an American base in Afghanistan in 2009.
Robert Hilton, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, would not comment on the Taliban statement, but called for Bergdahl's release and said that he had already been gone too long.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also issued a statement to the media confirming suspending talks with U.S.
“We have been holding their soldier Bowe Bergdahl since 2009 and they are having our five top commanders in custody since 2002,” the Taliban commander who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We wanted to exchange our prisoners but our supreme leader asked us to stop it.”
NBC News' Akbar Shinwari contributed to this report.
First published February 23 2014, 1:26 AM
Mushtaq Yusufzai is a journalist based in Peshawar, Pakistan. Originally from Mardan in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, he began his journalism career in 1999 as a health reporter on the News, a leading English-language daily.
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But his professional life was transformed by the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the subsequent U.S.-led ousting of the hardline Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
He was always interested in reporting on Pakistan's tribal areas because he found them to be the most challenging.
He has roved Pakistanâ€™s dangerous tribal belt in the course of his reporting for NBC News since 2004, including mountainous Waziristan. He has risked life and limb â€“ and endured several kidnappings â€“ to get the story from the Taliban and warlords in Pakistanâ€™s dangerous tribal region.
He was the winner of the inaugural Kate Webb award, set up by Agence France-Presse (AFP) to honor the life and career of the legendary foreign correspondent, in 2008.
In 2009, Yusufzai was among the four journalists, out of 400 worldwide, selected for the Dag Hammarskjold Fellowship and invited to New York to attend U.N. General Assembly.
The World Health Organization in 2010 and 2011 awarded him with gold medals for investigative journalism in health related to polio. And in 2012, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa health department gave him a gold medal for best health reporting related to polio in the region.