America's only prisoner of war is now free—after what the Wall Street Journal describes as three years of secret negotiations to obtain Bowe Bergdahl's release. Its sources describe a timeline that began in November 2010, with a meeting in Munich in which the Taliban asked for the release of six Guantanamo prisoners (one later died; it's not made explicit if the five released were on this original list). Direct negotiations ceased in early 2012, with the next big move occurring in September: A secret message was sent to the White House by way of Qatar expressing interest in once again discussing a swap. A video was then sent as proof Bergdahl was alive, but his apparently frail nature caused the US to accelerate its efforts.
The US and Qatar signed a memorandum establishing some details about how Qatar would handle released prisoners, and a negotiating team arrived in the country on May 23, with Qataris acting as the go-between between the US and Taliban. The emir of Qatar was even involved, and on Tuesday he assured Obama via phone that the freed militants would be carefully tracked. That was a turning point of sorts, with the discussions then shifting to logistics: how to make sure the Taliban could deliver Bergdahl without Pakistan or Afghan forces attacking their convoy or US aircraft firing on it; to eliminate the latter possibility, the US military closed a large swath of airspace. A Qatari team reached Gitmo on Thursday; the US and Taliban established how big a force each would bring to the swap. The US was then told to wait for the Taliban's call, which came Saturday morning. What happened next: A 30-second encounter that the Journal describes as "one of the most unlikely meetings between combatants in 13 years of war." (Click to read about how Bergdahl then learned he was free, or for more on what he faces next.)