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Taliban proposes prisoner exchange with U.S.

KABUL -- The Taliban proposed a deal Thursday in which they would free a U.S. soldier held captive since 2009 in exchange for five of their most senior operatives at Guantanamo Bay.

The proposal to trade U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees was made by senior Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail in response to a question during a phone interview with The Associated Press from the militants' newly opened political office in Doha, Qatar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday eased his opposition to joining planned peace talks there.

The idea of releasing these Taliban prisoners has been controversial. U.S. negotiators hope they would join the peace process but fear they might return to the battlefield. Karzai once scuttled a similar deal partly because he felt Washington was usurping his authority.

The prisoner exchange is the first item on the Taliban's agenda before even starting peace talks with the United States, said Suhail, a top Taliban figure.

"First has to be the release of detainees," Suhail said. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."

The Obama administration was noncommittal about the proposal, which it said it had expected the Taliban to make.

Bergdahl, 27, of Hailey, Idaho, is the only known American soldier held captive from the Afghan war. He disappeared from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and is believed held in Pakistan.

Bergdahl's parents received a letter this month from their son through the International Committee of the Red Cross.

-- AP

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