Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Former captive: Bergdahl is likely alive

Journalist says soldier’s safety is paramount to captors

Express Staff Writer

Bowe Bergdahl

Sixteen months after Hailey-area native Bowe Bergdahl was captured by Taliban militants in the Patika province of Afghanistan, a journalist and former Taliban captive says the soldier is likely safe.

"I honestly do not think they will ever harm him," said Jere Van Dyk during a Nov. 17 interview on Idaho Public Television.

Van Dyk is a journalist and author who is currently a consultant on Afghanistan, Pakistan and al-Qaida for CBS News. He has traveled to Afghanistan and other countries in the region since the 1970s. He was abducted by Taliban militants in 2008 and released 45 days later.

Bergdahl was captured in Patika province on June 30, 2009. U.S. officials say the soldier was captured when he wandered off base. His captors say they took him when he was lagging behind while on patrol. Bergdahl's location is still unknown.

Van Dyk said the Taliban would try to brainwash Bergdahl in "every possible way" and attempt to convert him to Islam, perhaps even offering to find him a wife, but that his safety would be paramount.

"The Taliban are not monolithic," he said. "The groups compete with one another and they have to protect this man at the same time."

Van Dyk said based on videos posted by Bergdahl's captors on the Internet, the soldier is being used as a propaganda tool to improve the image of the Taliban.

"They are trying to show that 'we are different now, and we will not harm anybody,'" he said.

While working as a correspondent for The New York Times in 1981, Van Dyk lived with mujahedeen Afghan militants as they battled the Soviet Army. His articles, which included a three-part story in the paper's Sunday magazine, were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

When the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in the late 1980s, a civil war ensued between rival mujahedeen groups that devastated the country. The Taliban took control of the country in the mid-1990s, were driven from power in 2001 and have made a comeback in recent years.

In 2008, Van Dyk was captured and imprisoned by the Taliban in the no-man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He told the story of his 45-day ordeal in his book "Captive," published this year.

Videos posted on the Internet by Bergdahl's captors show them to be Taliban militants, but an October report from Sky News television in the United Kingdom reported a Taliban source as saying that Bergdahl was being held by al-Qaida militants, an international terrorist organization, rather than the Taliban.

"Initially, we were there to destroy al-Qaida, but the war has now morphed into a war against the Taliban," Van Dyk said.

"The war is worse now than it was under President Bush. There are more drone attacks along the Pakistani border under Obama," he said.

Van Dyk said he does not support pulling U.S. troops out of the country because he does not want the Taliban to regain power. He also said the U.S. is partially responsible for the destruction of the country since the 1980s because it supported the mujahedeen.

"We used the mujahedeen as a proxy army to fight the Russians," he said.

Van Dyk said there are more U.S. troops now in Afghanistan than there were Russian troops in the country during the 10-year conflict between Russia and Afghanistan.

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