Appearing at the White House with the parents of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama said Saturday that he spoke for all Americans in sharing in the joy the family felt about their son’s release from Taliban custody.
“While Bowe was gone he was never forgotten,” Obama said in remarks made in the Rose Garden with Jani and Bob Bergdahl at his side. “He wasn’t forgotten by his country because the United states of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
“We cannot wait for the moment that you are reunited and your son back back in your arms,” Obama said. The “top priority,” he said before inviting the Bergdahls to speak, was making sure their son gets the “care and support he needs to be reunited with his family as soon as possible.”
Bob Bergdahl’s voice cracked with emotion as he addressed those gathered.
“To each and every single one, throughout the whole of American government and international governments around the world, thank you so much,” he said. “We just can’t communicate the words this morning when we heard from the president.”
Bergdahl said that Bowe was having difficulty speaking English after so long in captivity. Facing the cameras and addressing his son in Pashto, “I’m your father, Bowe.”
The elder Bergdahl had been learning Pashto, the language common to the Taliban fighters, in hope of communicating directly with his son’s captors.
Bergdahl is receiving treatment in Afghanistan but is expected to be moved at some point to a U.S. military hospital in San Antonio , Texas, for further treatment and help in readjusting, officials said.
As Obama walked away, arm in arm with the Bergdahls, Jani Bergdahl said, “Yes, it’s a good day.”
Before turning over the microphone to the Bergdahls, Obama reiterated his commitment to winding down U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and closing the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said the U.S. also remains “deeply committed to securing the release of Americans being unjustly held” in other nations.
“We also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home and, today in this instance, it’s a promise that we’ve been able to keep,” he said.
Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban for nearly five years until his release was secured in exchange for that of five Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
An Idaho native, Bergdahl was 23 went he went missing in June 30, 2009, in the eastern Afghan province of Paktika, near the border with Pakistan.
Supporters had planned a rally June 28 in Hailey, Idaho, to bring attention to efforts to secure Bergdahl’s release. That event, which is to feature Carole King, was quickly renamed from “Bring Bowe Back” to “Bowe is Back.”
Bergdahl, now 28, was released to American custody Saturday evening in Afghanistan. The transfers happened after a week of intense negotiations mediated by the government of Qatar, which will take custody of the Afghans. Several dozen U.S. special forces were involved in the exchange, which took place in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he had signed an order releasing five detainees held at Guantanamo Bay to Qatar. Hagel said in a statement that the Pentagon would give Bergdahl “all the support he needs to recover.”
“It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade, " Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in a statement. “Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.”
Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this report from Los Angeles.