Bring Our Son Home

The parents of America's only missing soldier in Afghanistan almost got him back from the Taliban. What went wrong?

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Christopher Morris for TIME

From their home in Idaho, Bob and Jani Bergdahl have been working for three years to secure their son Bowe's release

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In early January, the Taliban for the first time publicly revealed to individual journalists that they were interested in negotiating with Washington. It was a significant departure for a group that has consistently refused to negotiate as long as foreign troops remained in Afghanistan.

But there was a problem. As the talks in Qatar proceeded, discussions inside the Taliban movement got heated at times, says Karzai, particularly between the older, more experienced members who were part of the Taliban government toppled in 2001 and the younger recruits who know nothing but battle. One senior commander says leaks about the talks had undermined morale. "Most of our fighters had stopped fighting, and the battlefields became a standstill due to talks with the Americans."

But by early March, it looked as though everything was set to go. Many members of the detainees' families were already in Qatar, preparing for long-anticipated reunions with fathers and husbands they hadn't seen in a decade.

And then it all fell apart.

On March 15, the Taliban suspended the talks, citing the Americans' "unacceptable" conditions. Taliban members say the U.S. tacked on a last-minute stipulation that the Taliban announce a cease-fire and lay down arms first. "We told them we are willing to announce a cease-fire, but you should start pulling out all foreign forces and tell the world that invading Afghanistan and removing the Taliban from power was your mistake, but they did not agree," a Taliban leader says. "Thus the talks failed." Not surprisingly, the U.S. sees it differently. "The Taliban refused to agree to the terms we require for a transfer, so they walked away," the Obama Administration official says. "This proposal ... is still very much on the table."

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