Friday, December 9, 2011

Bergdahl tried to escape captors

Soldier returned to Taliban custody after 3 days


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Bowe Bergdahl

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl made a daring break for freedom from his Taliban captors about three months ago, according to a report in The Daily Beast, an online news source affiliated with Newsweek magazine.

The Dec. 7 report states that the Hailey native eluded his captors for three days by hiding in a ditch covered with leaves, and put up a "ferocious" fight against his captors when he was discovered.

The Daily Beast cites three militant sources, including Hafiz Hanif, a 17-year-old former Afghan al-Qaida militant who was interviewed last year by Newsweek.

"Over time, he [Bergdahl] seemed so friendly and cooperative—even trying to learn Pashto, the language of his captors—that his jailers removed the restraints they had bound him with, especially at night, to prevent him from escaping," The Daily Beast reported.

Hanif was interviewed this month near the Afghan city of Khost, saying he first saw Bergdahl on a high mountain trail in North Waziristan on the isolated frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hanif said he saw Bergdahl again several months later in the Shawal Valley, a forested area close to Afghanistan's Paktika Province, where Bergdahl was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009.

According to multiple news sources, militants in the Shawal Valley have been the target of numerous unmanned aerial drone strikes.

Prior to his escape attempt, Bergdahl had apparently won the trust of his captors. He was even allowed to carry an old, loaded rifle and join the guerrillas as they hunted birds and rabbits, the militants said, until one night in late August or early September when Bergdahl fled through an open first-floor window of a mud-brick house.

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After three days and two nights without food and water, Bergdahl was found and recaptured by militants under the command of Mullah Sangin, a senior commander in the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network, the militants said.

The Daily Beast said Hanif was told that Bergdahl "fought like a boxer," until being subdued by seven men.

Another Afghan source told the magazine that Bergdahl's captors now shuttle him back and forth across the Afghan/Pakistan border.

U.S. military leaders were apparently surprised by the news about Bergdahl.

"It's material I've never heard before," Bob Prucha, deputy director for public affairs at U.S. Central Command, told The Daily Beast. "It's been a long time since we've had any indication that he's alive.

"We're still looking for him. We've never ceased looking and working every intelligence angle we can come up with. We get a lead, we track it down."

Col. Timothy Marsano, an Idaho National Guard public-affairs officer who acts as a media liaison for the Bergdahl family, said the soldier's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, are "doing the best that they can" in light of the news.

"It has been a very challenging almost two and half years," Marsano said. "They were pleased to hear that their son is healthy, and they continue to maintain hope that he will return home safely."

Marsano said the community support in the Wood River Valley has helped the family with this "extremely difficult" situation.

"The U.S. military is doing everything it can do to let the Bergdahls know about the progress of the search for their son," he said. "They are providing regular updates to see that they are not left in the dark."

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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