Friday, June 7, 2013

Bergdahls: Letter hints Bowe is alive

Family says captive soldier sent message through International Red Cross

Express Staff Writer

This image of Bowe Bergdahl was taken from a video released by his Taliban captors. Photo courtesy of IntelCenter

     The parents of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl this week got a glimmer of hope of his survival after being held in captivity for nearly four years.

      The optimism came in the form of a letter, which was reportedly received this week by the parents through the International Committee of the Red Cross. The soldier’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, live near Hailey.

     Bergdahl is believed to have been captured by Taliban forces on June 30, 2009, while on patrol in Paktika province, in eastern Afghanistan. At the time of his capture, Bowe was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. Details of the circumstances that led to his capture remain sketchy.

     The soldier’s father quit his job with the UPS to dedicate his time to securing the release of his only son, who was raised in the Wood River Valley. The letter is the first public evidence that Bergdahl is alive since his captors released an online video of him in 2011.

     Idaho National Guard Public Affairs Officer Col. Tim Marsano, who is serving as media liaison to the Bergdahl family, provided this statement from the family: “Through the International Committee of the Red Cross, we recently received a letter we’re confident was written to us by our son Bowe. Our family is greatly relieved and encouraged by this letter, which gives us hope that Bowe is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.”

     “We thank the ICRC for all their assistance and support over these past four years. We want to also thank the many individuals, private groups and agencies who are working to support us and bring Bowe home. We hope Bowe’s captors will again consider his parents’ plea to release him, but in the meantime, we ask that you please continue to keep him in good health and allow him to keep corresponding with us.”

     The contents of the letter have not been revealed.

     Bergdahl’s parents have been supported by the community here, which has hosted memorial gatherings and has tied memorial yellow ribbons on light posts and fence posts throughout the valley.

     In an interview with Idaho Mountain Express Editor Greg Foley last year, the Bergdahls said they believed Bowe is alive and could be brought home through aggressive negotiations or, possibly, a prisoner exchange. Mr. Bergdahl said then that he and his wife want to see a peaceful resolution to the standoff, preferably one that doesn't put other American soldiers in harm’s way in order to secure Bowe’s freedom.

     “We don't want to see Americans killed,” he said.

     Mrs. Bergdahl said then that the family had reasons to believe that their son was in captivity in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

     “We know he is doing as well as he can be,” she said.

     The letter seems to reinforce that belief after a long period of quiet.

     Mr. Bergdahl said last year that he believes a deal to swap Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for his son would be a “win-win” for the United States—his son could be returned safely to Idaho and the government could foster goodwill with the Afghan people. The ongoing imprisonment of suspected war criminals at the Cuba compound and reports of mistreatment of prisoners there encourages anti-American sentiment and might be helping some organizations to recruit soldiers to fight against the United States, he said.

     Talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Qatar failed, as the Taliban leadership reportedly refused to accept the U.S. demand of a cease-fire before swapping prisoners.

Bergdahl event planned in Hailey

Supporters of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will commemorate the soldier’s fourth year in captivity overseas with a series of activities at Hop Porter Park in Hailey on Saturday, June 22, from 1-5 p.m. The event, called Bring Bowe Home, will feature live music by Up A Creek and Paddy Wagon, and will include food and beverages from local companies, as well as events for children. A 5K race will begin at 10 a.m., followed by numerous speakers, including state Sen. Michelle Stennett, County Commissioner Larry Schoen and Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey. At 2 p.m., a tree dedication ceremony will take place; four trees will be planted, one for each year Bergdahl has been held captive. More than $15,000 in raffle items will be given away during the day. Event organizer Debbie O’Neill said it started as a small-town event but has been growing. She said Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, are expected to appear at the event. To donate raffle items, contact Stefanie at 721-8884.

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