Taliban offer adds urgency to Idaho POW rally

HAILEY, Idaho — A U.S. prisoner of war’s mother said she’s feeling “very optimistic” after his Taliban captors offered last week to exchange him for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s mother, Jani Bergdahl, spoke to about 2,000 people gathered Saturday in a central Idaho city park, 400 of whom arrived by motorcycle in leather and patches commemorating America’s military missing in action.

Bowe Bergdahl was taken prisoner in Afghanistan four years ago.

His parents spoke for 15 minutes about hopes that their son’s ordeal will soon come to a joyful close.

Bob Bergdahl, his father, urged those gathered to remember everyone, regardless of nationality, who had suffered during the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan.

He addressed his son’s captors in Pashto, the Afghan language he’s learned since Bowe Bergdahl went missing.

Organizer Stefanie O’Neill said the Taliban offer has lent an addition element of urgency — and hope — to the event.

“We’re not a community without Bowe,” O’Neill said. “We’re doing our best, but we need him back.”

Bob Bergdahl plans to ride his son’s dirt bike as part of the motorcycle procession that will travel north on Idaho State Highway 75 to Hailey’s Hop Porter Park. That’s where young four Norway maples have been planted overlooking the children’s playground to commemorate each of the four years Bowe Bergdahl been held captive following his June 30, 2009 capture in Afghanistan.

He’s believed held somewhere in Pakistan, but the Taliban said they would free him in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay, the American installation on the southeastern tip of Cuba that’s housed suspected terrorists following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The militant group’s proposition came just days ahead of possible talks between a U.S. delegation and Taliban members in Qatar.

The discussions would be the first U.S.-Taliban talks in nearly 1 1/2 years, and the prospect that they could include discussions over Bergdahl have raised his family’s spirits in Hailey, according to Donna Thibedeau-Eddy, a family friend.

The discussions are just the latest good news Bob and Jani Bergdahl have received in recent weeks. On June 6, they announced they had received a letter in Bowe’s handwriting, the first since he was taken prisoner, shuttled through the International Committee of the Red Cross.