Monday, June 2, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl: US Army Deserter For 5 Taliban Leaders


(CNN) -- 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 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."

After 5 years, what's next for Bergdahl?

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 healthcare professionals deem him fit to endure one."

President Obama with Bergdahl's parents.
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 he walked off the post to another that he was grabbed from a latrine.

According to first-hand 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 comprised 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.

Idaho hometown prepares for homecoming

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."

Emails 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," Bowe 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."

Bowe Bergdahl's parents. (Muslims?)
CNN has not independently verified the authenticity of the emails.

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."

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.

Bowe Bergdahl's father.
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.

Taliban claim captured U.S. solider has converted to Islam and is teaching its fighters bomb-making skills. A captured American soldier is training Taliban fighters bomb-making and ambush skills, according to one of his captors and Afghan intelligence officials.

Private Bowe Bergdahl disappeared in June 2009 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is thought to be the only U.S. serviceman in captivity. The 24-year-old has converted to Islam and now has the Muslim name Abdullah, one of his captors told The Sunday Times.

A Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika, who called himself Haji Nadeem, told the newspaper that Bergdahl taught him how to dismantle a mobile phone and turn it into a remote control for a roadside bomb.
Nadeem claimed he also received basic ambush training from the U.S. soldier.

Five Afghani Talibans swapped for US deserter-captive Bowe Bergdahl.
The Gitmo detainees swapped for Bergdahl: Who are they?

(CNN) -- Together with the announcement that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released after nearly five years of captivity came the news that five detainees at Guantanamo Bay were being transferred to Qatar.
A plane carrying the detainees left the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, Cuba, after the announcement that Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009, had been exchanged for the five men.

Saturday's transfer was brokered through the Qatari government, a senior Defense official said. According to senior administration officials, Qatar agreed to take custody of the detainees and provide assurances they would not pose a threat to the United States, including a one-year ban from travel out of Qatar.

Two senior administration officials confirmed the names of the five released detainees as Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa, Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Nori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Mohammad Nabi Omari.

They were mostly mid- to high-level officials in the Taliban regime and had been detained early in the war in Afghanistan, because of their positions within the Taliban, not because of ties to al Qaeda. CNN profiled them two years ago, when their names first surfaced as candidates for a transfer as part of talks with the Taliban:

1) Khair Ulla Said Wali Khairkhwa

Khairkhwa was an early member of the Taliban in 1994 and was interior minister during the Taliban's rule. He hails from the same tribe as Afghan President Hamid Karzai and was captured in January 2002. Khairkhwa's most prominent position was as governor of Herat province from 1999 to 2001, and he was alleged to have been "directly associated" with Osama bin Laden.

According to a detainee assessment, Khairkhwa also was probably associated with al Qaeda's now-deceased leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi. He is described as one of the "major opium drug lords in western Afghanistan" and a "friend" of Karzai. He was arrested in Pakistan and was transferred to Guantanamo in May 2002. During questioning, Khairkhwa denied all knowledge of extremist activities.

2) Mullah Mohammad Fazl

Fazl commanded the main force fighting the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance in 2001, and served as chief of army staff under the Taliban regime. He has been accused of war crimes during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s. Fazl was detained after surrendering to Abdul Rashid Dostam, the leader of Afghanistan's Uzbek community, in November 2001.

He was wanted by the United Nations in connection with the massacre of thousands of Afghan Shiites during the Taliban's rule. "When asked about the murders, he did not express any regret," according to the detainee assessment. He was alleged to have been associated with several militant Islamist groups, including al Qaeda. He was transferred into U.S. custody in December 2001 and was one of the first arrivals at Guantanamo, where he was assessed as having high intelligence value.

3) Mullah Norullah Noori

Noori served as governor of Balkh province in the Taliban regime and played some role in coordinating the fight against the Northern Alliance. Like Fazl, Noori was detained after surrendering to Dostam, the Uzbek leader, in 2001.

Noori claimed during interrogation that "he never received any weapons or military training." According to 2008 detainee assessment, Noori "continues to deny his role, importance and level of access to Taliban officials." That same assessment characterized him as high risk and of high intelligence value.

4) Abdul Haq Wasiq

Wasiq was the deputy chief of the Taliban regime's intelligence service. His cousin was head of the service. An administrative review in 2007 cited a source as saying that Wasiq was also "an al Qaeda intelligence member" and had links with members of another militant Islamist group, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

Wasiq claimed, according to the review, that he was arrested while trying to help the United States locate senior Taliban figures. He denied any links to militant groups.

5) Mohammad Nabi Omari

Omari was a minor Taliban official in Khost Province. According to the first administrative review in 2004, he was a member of the Taliban and associated with both al Qaeda and another militant group Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin.

He was the Taliban's chief of communications and helped al Qaeda members escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Omari acknowledged during hearings that he had worked for the Taliban but denied connections with militant groups. He also said that he had worked with a U.S. operative named Mark to try to track down Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

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                         (Fox News's report of Sergeant Bergdahl's platton mates' accusations.)