Family of U.S. soldier held by Taliban hopeful over Qatar deal

SALMON, Idaho Thu Jan 5, 2012 1:43am EST

Undated image from video footage taken from a Taliban-affiliated website shows a man who says he is Private First Class Bowe R. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June. REUTERS via Reuters TV

Undated image from video footage taken from a Taliban-affiliated website shows a man who says he is Private First Class Bowe R. Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June.

Credit: Reuters via Reuters TV

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SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The family of a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban for over two years said on Wednesday they were optimistic about the possibility of talks between the Afghan insurgent group and countries including the United States.

They expressed hope that Bowe Bergdahl would be freed "as soon as possible" in a statement issued a day after the Taliban said they had reached a preliminary agreement to set up a political office in the Gulf Arab country of Qatar.

"We are optimistic about the possibility of diplomatic discussions between Taliban officials and government officials from other nations, including the United States," the family said in a statement released through the Idaho National Guard.

"Our only son, Bowe Bergdahl, has been held captive for two and a half years. We hope he will be released as soon as possible. We know that serious discussions among diplomats are the most likely way to make this happen, and for Bowe to be returned safely to us, his family," it added.

Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was a member of the 1st Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan when he went missing in June 2009. Three days later, the U.S. military declared him captured by the Taliban.

In May 2011, Robert Bergdahl posted an online appeal asking the government of Pakistan and its armed forces to help free his son. In July, the NATO security force in Afghanistan said U.S. and NATO forces had made bringing Bergdahl home a top priority.

The Afghan Taliban announced a preliminary deal on Tuesday to set up a political office in Qatar, which could lead to diplomatic talks, and asked for the release of prisoners held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Qatar office is seen by Western and Afghan officials as a crucial step to moving forward with secretive attempts to reach a negotiated end to a decade of war. The Taliban statement pointedly made no mention of the Kabul government, set up after a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 ousted the Taliban from power.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday that Afghanistan agreed with U.S. efforts to talk with the Taliban, and the plan to open an office in Qatar, because they could prevent further conflict and the deaths of innocent civilians.

The branch of the Taliban believed to be holding Bergdahl operates on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and may be based in tribal lands in Pakistan, according to reports by the U.S. Department of Defense.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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