Friday, July 24, 2009

Bergdahl “doing the right thing” for survival

Dick Couch ‘guardedly optimistic’ about prisoner’s situation

Express Staff Writer

Dick Couch, pictured here in a trip outside Camp Marc Lee, a SEAL compound in Ramadi, Iraq, says it’s too early to speculate on Bowe Bergdahl’s circumstances. Photo by

Blaine County native and soldier Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl is taking the correct course to stay alive, according another Wood River Valley resident and one of the nation's preeminent experts on special operations and counter-terrorism.

Dick Couch, a retired Navy captain and former member of one of the U.S. military's most prestigious units, the SEALs, has become a well-known author of novels and non-fiction books based on Navy and Army special operations soldiers. But long before he became known for his literary prowess, Couch led a successful rescue operation of 19 Vietnamese prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

Although officially retired since 1997, the 65-year-old hasn't strayed too far from the military, continuing to work as a consultant on special operations and recently completing a year-long stint at the Naval Academy, where he taught a course on ethics.

Couch stops short of detailed speculation, unlike some other news correspondents and media pundits, due to the lack of information surrounding the circumstances that led to Bergdahl's imprisonment.

"We have to reserve judgement until all the facts come out," Couch said.

This statement was largely precipitated by comments on Sunday from Fox News military analyst Ralph Peters, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who told television host Julie Banderas that Bergdahl is a liar because of the varied reports of his capture. Peters eventually concluded that "if [Bergdahl] walked away from his post and his buddies at wartime ... I don't care how hard it sounds, as far as I'm concerned, the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills."

Peters' implication that Bergdahl deserted his post, is collaborating with the Taliban and should possibly be killed for his actions is not a view that Couch shares.

"Peters was obviously stepping out there," Couch said. "He laid out a full spectrum of what could have gone on and some of it was not pretty. I think it was ill-advised and he should have had more information."

Whereas Peters criticized Bergdahl for making "anti-American statements" on the video released by the Taliban on Saturday, Couch said this could be the key to the soldier's safety.

During the video interview, Bergdahl is prompted to comment both on his role as a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and to admonish the U.S. government to bring home the troops.

"His survival is predicated on him doing the right thing, on having value from a propaganda standpoint," Couch said.

Couch said that regardless of the circumstances surrounding Begdahl's capture, his rescue would be a high priority for the military.

"If you take an American soldier, you'd better not make a mistake. You had better be looking over both shoulders and not sleeping in the same place two nights in a row or you will be woken up by flash-bangs and guys with rifles wearing balaclavas."

At the same time, Couch said that rescue missions are high-risk operations that put the special operations units in danger.

"I have put flowers on the graves of buddies after going after one of our own," Couch said. "I hope he didn't make a mistake because it puts people at risk."

Couch added that immediate action, in terms of a rescue operation, would be unlikely.

"There's really nothing to do but sit back and wait," Couch said. "It will take time, effort and money to look for him."

Despite the difficulty, which could have increased if Bergdahl was smuggled across the border into Pakistan, Couch said that rescue is not out of the question.

"I think the chances of recovery are pretty good," Couch said. "I'm guardedly optimistic."

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