Bowe Bergdahl, US soldier held by Taliban since 2009, freed in swap

The United States found “an opening” and acted quickly to save U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s life, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday.

“We believed that the information we had, the intelligence we had, was such that Sgt. Bergdahl’s safety and health were both in jeopardy and in particular his health deteriorating,” Hagel said. “It was our judgment that if we could find an opening and move very quickly with that opening, that we needed to get him out of there essentially to save his life. I know President Obama feels very strongly about that, I do as well.”

Bowe Bergdahl, 25, disappeared in June 2009 after he finished his guard shift at a combat outpost in southeastern Afghanistan's Paktika province. He has been seen in several videos released by the Taliban. He was released on May 31, 2014.

Bowe Bergdahl, 25, disappeared in June 2009 after he finished his guard shift at a combat outpost in southeastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province. He has been seen in several videos released by the Taliban. He was released on May 31, 2014.

Bergdahl, the last American soldier held captive from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, is on a long journey home after being freed Saturday in a prisoner exchange.

He arrived Sunday at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a U.S. Defense official said.

The 28-year-old Idaho native, who spent five years in the hands of Afghan militants, was expected to undergo medical treatment and be debriefed at Landstuhl, a massive facility that treats serious war injuries from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

His “reintegration process” will include “time for him to tell his story, decompress, and to reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences,” a senior Defense official said.

Bergdahl will likely go to Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio when he is ready to leave Landstuhl. It’s unclear if his parents will see Bergdahl first in Germany or Texas, a Defense official said.

U.S. special operations forces recovered Bergdahl without incident early Saturday local time at a “pickup” point in eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan, a senior Department of Defense official told CNN. American officials said the government of Qatar brokered the deal, in which five Guantanamo detainees were swapped for Bergdahl.

Obama, flanked by Bergdahl’s parents at the White House on Saturday, praised the diplomatic officials and troops who helped secure Bergdahl’s release.

“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten,” the President said.

Bergdahl’s mother, Jani, said, “We will continue to stay strong for Bowe while he recovers.”

His father, Bob Bergdahl, spoke a few phrases in Pashtun, saying that his son is having trouble speaking English after his captivity in Afghanistan, according to a military press service.

“The complicated nature of this recovery will never really be comprehended,” his father said.

A senior Defense official confirmed Bowe Bergdahl is having trouble speaking English but the reasons for that were not clear, given the trauma he’s been through.

Also unclear is how Bergdahl fell into the hands of the Afghan militants. When a reporter asked if Bergdahl had deserted, 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, they will be dealt with later.”

Hagel said he hoped to speak personally with Bergdahl.

‘Our only son’

The U.S. government secured Bergdahl’s freedom in exchange for the release to the Taliban of five of its members detained at Guantanamo Bay.

After Bergdahl was handed over, a series of secret procedures was set in motion so each side knew the other was living up to the bargain. Qatari officials were already at Guantanamo and took custody of the detainees.

A U.S. Air Force aircraft carrying them left the U.S. Navy base in Cuba on Saturday afternoon, a senior Defense official told CNN. The United States has “appropriate assurances” that Qatar will be able to secure the detainees there, where they are under a travel ban for a year.

The Afghan Taliban issued a statement on its website in Arabic and Pashtun announcing with “great happiness and joy” the exchange of Bergdahl for five of its imprisoned senior leaders.

Bergdahl’s parents issued a statement thanking the Emir of Qatar, the U.S. government and the former captive’s supporters.

“We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home! We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son.”

The operation was so secretive that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was left out of the loop.

“Secretary (of State John) Kerry did inform President Karzai after the fact,” Hagel said.

Hagel was asked if this prisoner exchange could lead to more breakthroughs with the Taliban. Getting Bergdahl out of captivity was the first concern, he said.

“Whether that could lead to possible new breakthroughs with the Taliban, I don’t know. Hopefully it might,” he said. “But we pursued this effort specifically to get Sgt. Bergdhal back.”

The journey home

Bergdahl was first transferred to Bagram Airfield, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, for initial medical evaluation, before boarding a plane for Landstuhl, the largest American hospital outside the United States.

With more than 110 physicians and 250 nurses, the hospital has been the primary treatment center for soldiers hurt during Operations Desert Shield and Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Army website said.

The hospital has also treated nonmilitary personnel, such as hundreds of Bosnian refugees injured in a 1994 bombing and Americans and Kenyans hurt in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi. In 2006, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt were taken the Landstuhl hospital after being wounded by a bomb in Iraq.

Held by warlord

Bergdahl was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2009. He was 23 and a private at the time of his capture, which happened after he finished a guard shift at a combat outpost on June 30, 2009, in Paktika province.

He was believed to be held by operatives from the Haqqani network, an insurgent force led by warlord Siraj Haqqani, who has a reputation for holding positions that are extreme even by Taliban standards.

The network is affiliated with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and it was not always clear whether Haqqani operatives would abide by any agreement among the United States, Qatar and the Taliban.

Hailey, Idaho, residents hold a vigil Wednesday, July 23, 2009, for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan June 30. Here a resident holds a sign that shows the bumper sticker "Standing with Bowe captured 7-2-2009"

Hailey, Idaho, residents hold a vigil Wednesday, July 23, 2009, for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan June 30. Here a resident holds a sign that shows the bumper sticker “Standing with Bowe captured 7-2-2009″

An Afghan Taliban commander not authorized to speak to the media confirmed to CNN that Bergdahl was captured by insurgents with links to the Haqqani network in Pakistan. Over the years, the captive was transferred back and forth between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Critics question the negotiations

The United States has long declared that it won’t negotiate with groups linked to terrorists, but analysts have said the United States has effectively maneuvered around the edges of that declaration over the years.

“As the administration has repeatedly affirmed, we will not transfer any detainee from Guantanamo unless the threat the detainee may pose to the United States can be sufficiently mitigated and only when consistent with our humane treatment policy,” a senior administration official told CNN, adding that the detainees will be “subject to restrictions on their movement and activities.”

Many of the released Guantanamo detainees held political positions in the Taliban government that fell in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001.

But Sen. John McCain, a former POW, called the released detainees “hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands.” He demanded to know exactly what steps are being taken to guarantee that they never fight against the United States again.

8 comments

  • mbaker9105

    Good deal. Now if those released detainees can just meet with some unfortunate accident……

  • gerald

    5 “worst of the worst” terrorists for a deserter…………only in OBAMAVILLE.While a marine is being beaten and chained to a bed while naked in Mexico.
    Cover for VA scandal Obama’a a POS.

  • gerald

    (AP)
    The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s capture remain something of a mystery. There has been some speculation that he willingly walked away from his unit, raising the question of whether he could be charged with being absent without leave (AWOL) or desertion.

    In 2012, Rolling Stone magazine quoted emails Bergdahl is said to have sent to his parents that suggest he was disillusioned with America’s mission in Afghanistan, had lost faith in the U.S. Army’s mission there and was considering desertion. Bergdahl told his parents he was “ashamed to even be American.”

    The Associated Press could not independently authenticate the emails.

    Were Bergdahl to be charged with desertion, the maximum penalty he would face is five years in prison and a dishonorable discharge, if it’s proven that he deserted with the intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service. A case of AWOL, ended by the U.S. apprehending him, would not require proof that he intended to remain away permanently. The maximum punishment for that would be a dishonorable discharge and 18 months’ confinement, according to military justice experts.The detainees are among the most senior Afghans still held at the prison. They are:

    — Abdul Haq Wasiq, who served as the Taliban deputy minister of intelligence

    — Mullah Norullah Nori, a senior Taliban commander in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001

    — Khairullah Khairkhwa, who served in various Taliban positions including interior minister and had direct ties to Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden

    — Mohammed Nabi, who served as chief of security for the Taliban in Qalat, Afghanistan, and later worked as a radio operator for the Taliban’s communications office in Kabul

    — Mohammad Fazl, whom Human Rights Watch says could be prosecuted for war crimes for presiding over the mass killing of Shiite Muslims in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001 as the Taliban sought to consolidate their control over the country.

  • Veteran

    F this kid. He deserted, walked out of the outpost, left his weapon gear, etc behind and a lot of Soldiers were killed or wounded trying to find him. He should be tried for desertion but instead will be hailed as a hero. On top of that we now negotiate with terrorists and this now gives them leverage when they try to kidnap more Americans.

  • Veteran

    BTW, the article is wrong. The Maximum punishment is death because he deserted during time of war.

  • Becky

    The US President that Refuses to government, of, by, through, or under the US Government.
    Coincidently, this man held for as long as Obama’s been in office, caused an absolute,
    Obama immediate, emergency, call to action. Same Obama mode, in another of his long
    periods of decisive indecision, and then, magically, an immediate, urgent, emergency Obama response, the day after Congress recesses, in his Libya War Actions. He was Propagandized
    as The Most Intelligent, Harvard Constitutional Law Grad, Lawyer, Law Maker. So his actions, decisions, are deliberate, calculated, orchestrated, callous , illegal, and with intentional malice of aforethought. Then the entire party LIES with him to C.his.A.

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