Sunday, July 19, 2009
MISSING SOLDIER CAPTURED BY TALIBAN
July 19, 2009
A soldier from Idaho who disappeared from his base in Afghanistan has been captured, the Pentagon confirmed Sunday, a day after he was seen in a Taliban video posted online.
The Defense Department released the name of Pfc. Bowe (pronounced BOW) R. Bergdahl, 23, who was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment. The private was last seen walking away from his base near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold.
Even before his name became public, two U.S. defense officials confirmed to The Associated Press that the man in that 28-minute video was the captured soldier. The video, in which Bergdahl said he was “scared I won’t be able to go home,” provided the first public glimpse of the missing American.
The Pentagon statement said Bergdahl’s whereabouts became unknown on July 1 and his status was changed July 3 to missing-captured.
Bob Bergdahl, the soldier’s father, told The Associated Press Saturday that the family was requesting media respect their privacy.
“We hope and pray for our son’s safe return to his comrades and then to our family, and we appreciate all the support and expressions of sympathy shown to us by our family members, our friends and others across the nation,” Bob Bergdahl said in a statement issued through the Department of Defense. “Thank you, and please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers.”
On the video, which was posted on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban, Bergdahl says he’s from Hailey, Idaho, a town of about 7,000 people that lies 160 miles east of Boise. The Pentagon identified his hometown as Ketchum, which is about half the size of Hailey and about 12 miles north. His family says he grew up in Blaine County, closer to Hailey.
The Facebook page for a coffee shop in Hailey, Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, suggests many in the small town have known for some time that Bergdahl was in danger.
“Join all of us at Zaney’s holding light for Bowe Bergdahl,” says a post dated July 8.
One of the directors of the Sun Valley Ballet School in Ketchum said Bergdahl performed with the group for four or five years up to about 2008.
“He’s athletic,” Jill Brennan said. “He just had a knack for it. He’s a wonderful young man.”
In the video, Bergdahl had his head shaved and was seen with the start of a beard. He was sitting and dressed in a nondescript, gray outfit. Early in the video one captor held the soldier’s dog tag up to the camera. His name and ID number were clearly visible. He was shown eating at one point and sitting cross-legged.
He said the date was July 14 and that he was captured when he lagged behind on a patrol. It’s clear the video was made no earlier than July 14 because Bergdahl repeated an exaggerated Taliban claim about a Ukrainian helicopter that was shot down that day.
He was interviewed in English by his captors. He was asked his views on the war, which he called extremely hard; his desire to learn more about Islam; and the morale of American soldiers, which he said was low.
Asked how he was doing, the soldier said: “Well I’m scared, scared I won’t be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.”
He later choked up when discussing his family and his hope to marry his fiance.
“I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them every day when I’m gone,” he said.
He was prompted by his interrogators to give a message to the American people.
“To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” he said. “Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country. Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power.”
A U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said the Taliban was using their captive for propaganda.
“I’m glad to see he appears unharmed, but again, this is a Taliban propaganda video,” she said. “They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law.”
Bergdahl is a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
On July 2, the U.S. military said an American soldier had disappeared after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan counterparts and was believed to have been taken prisoner.
Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors.
But Afghan Police Gen. Nabi Mullakheil said the soldier went missing in eastern Paktika province near the border with Pakistan from an American base. The region is known to be Taliban-infested.
Afghans in contact with the Taliban told the AP that the soldier was held by a Taliban group led by a commander called Maulvi Sangin, who operates in the area where the American went missing. They said the fighters initially planned to smuggle the soldier across the border into Pakistan but ruled that out because of U.S. missile strikes and Pakistani bombing attacks against militant targets in the area. Instead, they decided to move him north into Taliban-controlled areas of Ghazni province.
The Afghans spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest or reprisal. It was impossible to independently confirm their information.
A brigade commander for the Afghan national army in southeastern Afghanistan, Gen. Asrar Ahmad Khan, said Afghan and coalition forces have been working together for 15 days searching for the missing soldier.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militants holding the soldier haven’t yet set any conditions for his release.