ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban says it has suspended "mediation" with the United States to exchange captive U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five senior Taliban prisoners held in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, halting -- at least temporarily -- what was considered the best chance yet of securing the 27-year-old's freedom since his capture in 2009.
In a terse Pashto language statement emailed to the Associated Press on Sunday, Zabihullah Mujahed blamed the "current complex political situation in the country" for the suspension.
Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, was last seen in a video released in December, footage seen as "proof of life" demanded by the United States. Bergdahl is believed to be held in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mujahed said the indirect talks with the United States had been mediated by the Middle Eastern state of Qatar, where the Taliban established a political office last June. The video of Bergdahl was part of the negotiations, which were to lead to the eventual transfer of five senior Taliban leaders held since 2002 in Guantanamo Bay.
"The leadership of the Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend the process for some time due to the current complex political situation in the country," according to the statement. "The process will remain suspended without the exchange of the prisoners until our decision to resume."
The Taliban spokesman did not elaborate on what "political situation" in Afghanistan led to the suspension of talks or say when they might resume. Afghanistan is in the middle of a presidential election campaign. President Hamid Karzai cannot seek another term in office under the Afghan constitution, which allows only two terms as president. The election is scheduled for April 5.
The U.S. State Department has refused to acknowledge the negotiations, but a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press that indirect talks were underway. He requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
In response to the Taliban statement, U.S. Embassy Spokesman in Kabul Robert Hilton said: "Sgt. Bergdahl has been gone far too long; however, we can't discuss the efforts we're taking to obtain his return."