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The announcement that the U.S. government had secured the release of missing U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and that it was freeing five senior Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay has been portrayed first and foremost as a prisoner exchange. But the four-year history of secret dialogue that led to Sunday’s release suggests that the main goal of each side may have been far more sweeping. It was about setting the stage for larger discussions on a future peaceful Afghanistan. The Obama administration has justified its decision by saying there was an urgent need to retrieve Bergdahl from captivity and ensure his safety before most U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this year. Judging from the earlier stages of negotiations, the Guantanamo prisoners were not seen as critically important in their own right to retain as prisoners.

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