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Touch and go on Bergdahl release until very end

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President Barack Obama looks to Bob Bergdahl as Jani Bergdahl, stands at left, during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Saturday, May 31, 2014 about the release of their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Barack Obama looks to Bob Bergdahl as Jani Bergdahl, stands at left, during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington on Saturday, May 31, 2014 about the release of their son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl, 28, had been held prisoner by the Taliban since June 30, 2009. He was handed over to U.S. special forces by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Afghan detainees held by the United States. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

FILE – This undated file image provided by the U.S. Army shows Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching, the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, according to a former senior defense official who was involved in the matter. Instead, the U.S. government pursued negotiations to get him back over the following five years of his captivity — a track that led to his release over the weekend. (AP Photo/U.S. Army, File)

Jani and Bob Bergdahl speak to the media during a press conference at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho, on Sunday, June 1, 2014. Bob Bergdahl, the father of an American soldier just released from captivity in Afghanistan says he’s proud of how far his son, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, was willing to go to help the Afghan people. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

White House press secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, June 2, 2014. Carney was asked about the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Afghanistan and a sweeping initiative by the Obama administration to curb pollutants blamed for global warming. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Right up until the moment Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was freed, U.S. officials weren’t sure the Taliban would really release the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan in exchange for high-level militants detained at Guantanamo Bay.

It was touch and go. But then came the call at 5:12 p.m. Saturday on a secure phone line at the U.S. Embassy in Doha, Qatar. U.S. negotiators learned that Bergdahl, a 28-year-old from Hailey, Idaho, held by the Taliban for nearly five years, was aboard a Delta Force helicopter bound for a U.S. base north of Kabul.

Bergdahl’s release has hardly been a straightforward yellow-ribbon moment for the U.S. Bergdahl apparently was disillusioned with the war and left his post. The decision to free him in exchange for five top Taliban officials who have been held in the U.S. detention center in Cuba has raised questions about whether such a swap was too big a concession to make.

According to a State Department official directly involved in the negotiations in Doha, U.S. officials who had holed up in the embassy for three straight days thought the final days of negotiations with the Taliban’s political leadership, through Qatari intermediaries, had gone pretty smoothly. The U.S. had gotten the Taliban to agree that the five detainees would be prohibited from traveling outside Qatar for a year after their release — something the Taliban earlier had opposed. In return, the U.S. agreed to release all five detainees at once, not one or two at a time as previously offered, in an effort to get Bergdahl back more quickly.

Still, the negotiators weren’t positive the deal would work until they got the call that U.S. forces had the Army sergeant, who broke down and cried during the flight. After the call, the negotiators were emotional, too, he said.

“Backslapping was not how I would describe it,” he said. “It wasn’t like New Year’s Eve. It was emotional, but not a giddy moment.”

It’s still unclear what the exact breakthrough moment was, but over lengthy negotiations the official said the talks gelled. Both sides wanted it to happen immediately before it could fall apart.

Details of the secret negotiations were described by the State Department official. But other information on the state of diplomacy between the Taliban, the U.S. and others was described by other current and former U.S. officials. None were authorized to speak about the deal publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The negotiating team included two each from the State Department and the Pentagon, one from the White House national security staff and two from the U.S. Embassy in Doha.

President Barack Obama, in Europe for meetings with several nations’ leaders and NATO officials, said Tuesday his administration had consulted with Congress about that possibility “for some time.”

The prisoner swap idea had evolved in fits and starts since early 2011. The idea of an exchange was one of three confidence-building measures that were meant to open the door for the Afghan government to hold direct peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The goal was for the Taliban network to disassociate itself from international terrorism, which essentially required them to break ranks with al-Qaida, and open a political office in Qatar. In June 2013, the Taliban opened the office, adorning it with the same white flag flown during its five-year rule of Afghanistan that ended with the 2001 American-led invasion. Afghan President Hamid Karzai became incensed because he saw that as a Taliban effort to set up a government-in-exile. While the office never opened, Qatar proved a good place to have back-channel communication with the Taliban.

The State Department official, who spent the past 11 days

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