PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Members of the Afghan Taliban confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that they are still holding the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl who disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in 2009, but claimed he sometimes stops eating and drinking.
“He is our special guest, and we consider him a precious bird, that’s why our men are taking care of him. We have been arranging food of his choice, but sometimes he stops eating and drinking and his hunger strike continues for a few days,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Only official Afghan Taliban spokesmen Qari Yousaf Ahmadi and Zabihullah Mujahid, are allowed to interact with media.
The United States just recently obtained a "proof of life" video of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member held captive by enemy forces in Afghanistan, officials revealed Wednesday.
The video — which the United States intercepted on a streaming feed last week — shows a frail, shaky Bergdahl making a reference to the recent death of South African leader Nelson Mandela, the officials said.
The Taliban commander said that Maulvi Sangeen, senior commander of the powerful Haqqani terror network (a faction of the Afghan Taliban), kidnapped Bergdahl from Paktika province in southern Afghanistan, near Pakistan’s troubled South Waziristan, in June 2009.
Bergdahl was later shifted to Pakistan’s tribal areas and held in the mountains, according to the Taliban commander. His captor, Sangeen, died in a U. S. drone attack last year in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.
Two years ago, when the Taliban opened their office in Qatar for peace talks with the U.S., there were prospects of an exchange of prisoners. The Haqqani network handed Bergdahl over to the Afghan Taliban because they wanted to exchange him for their top five commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay, the Taliban commander said.
“U.S. officials had promised us that first they would exchange prisoners and then start peace talks. But it didn’t take place. And finally when there was no hope of prisoners’ swap, the soldier was returned to the Haqqani network,” the Taliban commander said.
NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell asked former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about Bergdahl’s captivity Thursday.
“Yeah... that one weighed on us all because he really is the only MIA, if you will, from the Afghan war,” said Gates. “And I think it's fair to say that the commanders in Afghanistan never let up the effort to try and find him and still applied intelligence resources and assets to try to find him.”
Gates added that he’s glad his captors have apparently taken care of him.
“Frankly I'm pleased that the Taliban have kept him alive. We've always thought it was for some trading purpose or something, but it's not entirely clear what the situation is. But…obviously, we all hope that he does find his way home.”
The Taliban commander said that Bergdahl became very excited a few years ago when he learned about the potential peace between the Taliban and the U.S. and about his likely release.
“At some point we feel mercy for him, and being Muslims, we do our level best to take care of him,” he said.
According to the Taliban leader, Bergdahl had once wished to embrace Islam, but he believed the soldier was not serious and was only trying to appease his captors.
Another senior Taliban commander also claimed Bergdahl was in good health, but sometimes refused to eat and drink.
“Our men are very much helpful to him, but he doesn’t cooperate sometimes and stops eating without any reason. Sometimes he asks his captors to eliminate him if they were not going to release him,” he said.
Asked about Bergdahl's likely location, he said he was being held somewhere in the remote mountainous territory between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
NBC News reached out to the Bergdahl family for a reaction to the Taliban's comments through their media liaison at the Idaho National Guard, Col. Timothy Marsano.
“The Bergdahl family appreciates his captors keeping their son in good health and hope they will continue to do so until his safe release,” said Marsano.
He called attention to a statement released by the Bergdahl family through the Idaho National Guard Wednesday in response to the "proof of life" video.
“Naturally, this is very important to us and our resolve to continue our efforts to bring Bowe home as soon as possible," it read.
“As we have done so many times over the past 4 and a half years, we request his captors to release him safely so that our only son can be reunited with his mother and father.
“BOWE — If you see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!”
Bergdahl, who is from Idaho, joined the Army in 2008 and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Fort Richardson, Alaska. Less than a year later, he was deployed as a machine gunner to a combat outpost in Pakita Province, Afghanistan, a militant hotbed.
On June 30, 2009, Bergdahl was reported missing after not showing up for morning roll call. The murky circumstances of his disappearance led some to label him a deserter.
In June, Bergdahl's parents announced they received through the Red Cross a letter that they believe he wrote.
NBC News' Petra Cahill contributed to this report.