The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose “selfish act” ended up costing the lives of better men.
“I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on,” said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. “Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”
Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
A reporter asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission or deserted – and, if so, whether he would be punished. Hagel didn’t answer directly. “Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family,” he said. “Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”
Following his release from five years of captivity in Afghanistan on Saturday, Bergdahl was transferred to a military hospital in Germany.
A senior Defense official said Bergdahl’s “reintegration process” will include “time for him to tell his story, decompress, and to reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences.”
Said Bergdahl’s former squad leader, Greg Leatherman: “I’m pleased to see him returned safely. From experience, I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as health care professionals deem him fit to endure one.”
Another senior Defense official said Bergdahl will not likely face any punishment. “Five years is enough,” he told CNN on condition of anonymity.
Questions surround the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance. Conflicting details have since emerged about how the militants managed to capture Bergdahl. Published accounts have varied widely, from claims that he walked off the post to that he was grabbed from a latrine.
According to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon, Bergdahl, while on guard duty, shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary.
At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for Bergdahl, and many soldiers in his platoon said attacks seemed to increase against the United States in Paktika province in the days and weeks following his disappearance.
Many of Bergdahl’s fellow troops – from the seven or so who knew him best in his squad to the larger group that made up the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division – told CNN that they signed nondisclosure agreements agreeing to never share any information about Bergdahl’s disappearance and the efforts to recapture him. Some were willing to dismiss that document in hopes that the truth would come out about a soldier who they now fear is being hailed as a hero, while the men who lost their lives looking for him are ignored.
Many are flocking to social media, such as the Facebook page “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero,” where they share stories detailing their resentment. A number of comments on his battalion’s Facebook page prompted the moderator to ask for more respect to be shown.
“I challenge any one of you who label him a traitor to spend 5 years in captivity with the Taliban or Haqqani, then come back and accuse him again. Whatever his intent when he walked away or was captured, he has more than paid for it.”
E-mails reported by the late Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in 2012 reveal what Bergdahl’s fellow infantrymen learned within days of his disappearance: He told people that he no longer supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.
“The future is too good to waste on lies,” he wrote to his parents. “And life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”
Bergdahl wrote to them, “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”
CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the e-mails.
A former member of Bergdahl’s squad who has yet to identify his last name publicly but goes by “Cody” tweeted this weekend that before he disappeared, Bergdahl once told him, “If deployment is lame, I’m going to get lost in the Mountains and make my way to China.”
Leatherman told CNN that Bergdahl “always looked at the mountains in the distance and talked of ‘seeing what’s on the other side.’ “
Cody noted in his Twitter recollections a story that others from Blackfoot Company relay. While soldiers were searching for Bergdahl, a platoon “came upon some children, they asked him have they seen an American. The children said ‘yes, he was crawling on his belly through weeds and acting funny a while ago,’ ” according to Cody.
The platoon went to the village where the children said the American had gone. “Villagers said an American did come through the area and was wanting water and someone who spoke English,” Cody shared.
Former Pfc. Jose Baggett, 27, of Chicago, was also in Blackfoot Company and said he was close to two men “killed because of his (Bergdahl’s) actions.”
“He walked off,” Baggett told CNN. “He left his guard post. Nobody knows if he defected or he’s a traitor or he was kidnapped. What I do know is, he was there to protect us, and instead he decided to defer from America and go and do his own thing. I don’t know why he decided to do that, but we spend so much of our resources, and some of those resources were soldiers’ lives.”
Many soldiers on the ground at the time said insurgents were able to take advantage of the intense search for Bergdahl.
“A huge thing in-country is not building patterns. Well when you are looking for a person everyday that creates a pattern. While searching for him, ambushes and IEDs picked up tremendously. Enemy knew we would be coming. IEDs started being placed more effectively in the coming weeks. Ambushes were more calculated, cover and concealment was used,” Cody tweeted.
On August 18, 2009, Staff Sgt. Clayton Bowen and Pfc. Morris Walker were killed by an IED in the search for Bergdahl. Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss was killed on August 26; 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews and Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek were killed after being attacked in Yahya Khail District on September 4; Staff Sgt. Michael Murphrey was killed September 5 by an IED at the Forward Operating Base, Sharana.
Moreover, other operations were put on hold while the search for Bergdahl was made a top priority, according to officers who served in Afghanistan in that time. Manpower and assets — such as scarce surveillance drones and helicopters – were redirected to the hunt. The lack of assets is one reason the closure of a dangerous combat outpost, COP Keating, was delayed. Eight soldiers were killed at COP Keating before it was ultimately closed.
One soldier with the 509th Regiment, a sister unit of the 501st, told CNN that after Bergdahl disappeared, the U.S. Army essentially was told to lock down the entire province of Paktika. He described sitting in the middle of a field with his platoon, vulnerable, with capabilities and personnel mismanaged throughout the region. Different platoons ran out of water, food and ammunition.
Two mortarmen – Pvt. Aaron Fairbairn and Pfc. Justin Casillas – were killed in a July 4, 2009, attack.
“It was unbelievable,” the soldier said. “All because of the selfish act of one person. The amount of animosity (toward him) is nothing like you’ve ever seen before.”
That Bergdahl was freed in an exchange for five detainees at Guantanamo Bay is a further source of consternation.
“I don’t understand why we’re trading prisoners at Gitmo for somebody who deserted during a time of war, which is an act of treason,” Vierkant said.
In 2010, The Taliban claimed U.S. soldier Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had converted to Islam and had taught them bomb-making techniques. Bergdahl had also changed his name to Abdullah, the Taliban claimed, though the mainstream media largely ignored the story, seeing it as comparable to the tale of Sgt. Brody in the fictional Homeland television series on Showtime.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) also dismissed the claims, insinuating that it was jihadist propaganda. But in the aftermath of Sgt. Bergdahl’s release yesterday, more information has come to light, raising further questions as to whether the Taliban had in fact been telling the truth about Sgt. Bergdahl.
The circumstances behind the sergeant’s disappearance and kidnapping remains suspect. Why he seemingly walked off of his forward operating base in 2009, an infringement upon basic standard operating procedures, has not been explained.
Lt. Col Allen West noted that there is no precedent for the Taliban detaining American soldiers: “Our troops are brutally, ritually, and savagely murdered – to include American security contractors (remember the Fallujah bridge) – not held for five years”, he said.
The reports that Bowe has had “trouble speaking English” may seem confusing at the surface, especially since English is his native language and he has been seen on video over the past few years speaking the language without issue.
In his Saturday press conference with President Obama, Sgt. Bergdahl’s father, Robert Bergdahl, initially spoke in Arabic, the language of the Koran, in a message to his son: “In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.”
The message insinuates that Sgt. Bergdahl decided to learn the language of the Islamic texts. Only a handful of Afghanistan’s 31 million people understand Arabic, and the official languages of the country are Pashto and Dari.
Robert Bergdahl and The Taliban
Robert Bergdahl’s (Bowe’s father) behavior seems to point to the possibility that he also may have converted to Islam and has embraced radical elements.
In May of 2011, Bob Bergdahl released a video that pleaded for his son’s release. He said, “Strangely, to some, we must also thank those (Taliban) who have cared for our son for almost 2 years… We understand the rationale of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) has made through videos.” The reference to the Taliban as the ‘Islamic Emirate’ is, by way of prior evidence, the preserve of sympathisers.
Bob Bergdahl’s long beard appears to be in accordance with traditional Islamic customs, and its scraggly and unkempt appearance is, while no sure sign of conversion, a noted trait in white converts. CNN reported that he grew his beard to show “solidarity” with his son.
His Twitter page is filled with anti-American and pro-Islamist sentiments. There are many other controversial tweets besides the much-reported instance where he tweeted, “I am still working to free the remaining guantanamo prisoners.”
In April this year following the re-arrest and detention of former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, Bergdahl tweeted his support for the man once called “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban” by Amnesty International’s Gita Saghal.
- Robert Bergdahl (@bobbergdahl) May 24, 2014
Saghal, who famously quit the organisation following its work with Begg’s “CagePrisoners” group (now “CAGE”) was supported by numerous counter-terrorism experts who noted Begg’s prior signed confession to being a jihadist recruiter. He is now awaiting trial for providing terrorist training in Syria. Bergdahl’s vocal support for him is particularly troubling, though he finds himself in the company of numerous naive Members of the British Parliament.
On November 19th last year, Bergdahl linked to a jihadist website that attributed “the invaders” (US & Coalition forces) as the “main impetus of war” in Afghanistan.
On May 24th, Bergdahl linked to a movie produced by the Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan, a site that uses the Al Qaeda flag as its banner, saying, “I am still working to free all captives on all sides of this conflict.” Additionally, the website is recognized as the Taliban’s English-language media outlet. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan existed in the country under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.
And on May 28, Bergdahl would again link to the radical Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s website, writing, “my son speaks about unjust treatment of Afghan children.”
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) will hold hearings on the prisoner swap of five Taliban detainees for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, McKeon announced Monday.
“Now my perception is he [Obama] broke the law by not informing Congress 30 days before,” McKeon said on MSNBC Monday morning.
McKeon responded to White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s assertion on Sunday that Congress had been consulted on the issue in the past and were “well aware” that this could happen, but that the final decision was “expedited.”
“I have not been a part of this and I am chairman of the committee,” McKeon responded.
Republicans have warned the move could put Americans at risk and, as McKeon noted, expressed outrage at the fact Congress was not given required notice of the prisoner exchange.
“We will be holding hearings. I’m sorry that this is being portrayed as a Republican issue. I think Democrats also voted for this law, it was important for our national security, it’s important for our responsibility for oversight of this administration,” he said, stressing that the issue should not be seen as partisan, but rather an issue of following the law.
An Armed Services Committee spokesperson told Breitbart News that no date or witness list has yet been set for an upcoming hearing but expected it to occur sometime this month.
McKeon added that even 72 hours after the releases the administration has yet to tell Congress ”how they are going to ensure that these five top level Taliban terrorists are not coming back into the fight.”