By TONY EVANS and
Express staff writers
No date has been set for the return to Hailey of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released from captivity Saturday after being held by the Taliban for nearly five years.
Bergdahl, 28, of Hailey, was freed in exchange for five senior Taliban-affiliated prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. He was transferred on Sunday from the U.S. military’s Bagram Airfield base in Afghanistan to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Apparently speech-challenged from his time in captivity, Bergdahl has been reported to be in stable condition in Germany, where he is undergoing medical treatment and a debriefing on intelligence matters. Military authorities say he will have a chance to tell his version of the events that led to his capture by the Taliban when he returns to the United States.
At a Pentagon media briefing Monday, U.S. Defense Press Office Director Col. Steve Warren said Bergdahl’s health and nutrition issues were the first priority, followed by a debriefing interview that could serve military intelligence purposes.
Bergdahl is then expected to be transported to a military medical center in Texas. There is no date scheduled for his return to Idaho.
On Saturday afternoon, President Barack Obama held a media briefing in the Rose Garden at the White House, flanked by Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, who live west of Hailey.
“While Bowe was gone, he was never forgotten, by his parents who thought about him and prayed for him every day,” Obama said. “And he wasn’t forgotten by his country. The United States of America does not ever leave its men and women in uniform behind.”
Bob and Jani Bergdahl spoke briefly at a podium at the White House before retiring arm in arm with Obama.
“We just can’t communicate the words this morning when we heard from the president,” Bob Bergdahl said.
Bob and Jani Bergdahl returned to Idaho on Sunday and spoke at a press conference at the Gowen Field National Guard station in Boise.
Bob Bergdahl said he is well aware of the complicated and time-intensive process of leading his son to a full recovery. At the Washington, D.C., press conference, he noted that Bowe is apparently having some trouble with the English language, which he likely has not used to any extent over the past five years.
“He is like a diver that has gone too deep for too long,” Bob Bergdahl said in Boise. “If he comes up too fast, it could kill him.”
Bergdahl then spoke directly to his son, saying, “Bowe. I love you. I am proud of you. I am so proud of your character, I am so proud of your patience, your perseverance. I am so proud of your cultural abilities to adapt, your language skills, your desire and your action to serve this country in a very difficult and long war.
“But most of all, I am proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people, and what you were willing to do to go to that length. I am proud of how willing you were to go to help the Afghan people, and I think you have succeeded.”
Bergdahl is believed to have been captured by Taliban forces on June 30, 2009, while on duty in Paktika province, in eastern Afghanistan. At the time of his capture, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Bergdahl, who was assigned as a machine-gunner, is the only U.S. soldier to be held in captivity in the enduring Afghanistan war. It is believed he was held in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bergdahl was brought onto a helicopter Saturday in eastern Afghanistan by U.S. Special Forces. He reportedly held up a sign that asked “S.F.?” to those leading him to safety, trying to ascertain if they were Special Forces. He broke down in tears when he was told they were.
The negotiations to release Bergdahl happened in the Middle East nation of Qatar. U.S. officials said the deal was brokered through the government of Qatar, not the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous faction of the Taliban believed to have held Bergdahl in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past five years.
The Obama administration has said it did not violate the nation’s policy of not negotiating directly with terrorists, because the Qatar government acted as a mediator. Furthermore, it has been said that the five prisoners the U.S. released Saturday from Guantanamo could not have been successfully prosecuted because the military did not have enough evidence against them.
Some Republican politicians, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have criticized the deal to trade prisoners for Bergdahl. One complaint is that the president violated a law that requires that Congress be given 30 days notice of any plan to transport prisoners out of Guantanamo. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has said the administration had to act swiftly because Bergdahl’s health was in jeopardy.
“It was our judgment that if we could find an opening, and move very quickly with that opening, that we needed to get him out of there, essentially to save his life,” Hagel said in an interview.
The former prisoners have arrived in Qatar, where they will be held under house arrest for one year, according to the deal.
“For his assistance in helping to secure our soldier’s return, I extend my deepest appreciation to the Amir of Qatar,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “The Amir’s personal commitment to this effort is a testament to the partnership between our two countries. The United States is also grateful for the support of the government of Afghanistan throughout our efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release.”
At a Pentagon media briefing Monday, Col. Warren said he would not respond to questions about the security arrangements that would keep the Taliban detainees from reentering the conflict in Afghanistan.
“We never get into the specific assurances that we receive when we transfer detainees from Gitmo,” Warren said. “What I can say is that the secretary determined that this transfer was in the best interests of the national security of the United States of America.”
Warren also addressed a growing tide of sentiment among soldiers criticizing Bergdahl’s supporters for planning a hero’s welcome when he returns to Idaho. Many claim that he deserted his post and that soldiers died while trying to find him.
“There have been several looks into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, but we’ve never publicly said anything, primarily because we haven’t had a chance to speak with Sergeant Bergdahl himself,” Warren said.
About Bowe Bergdahl
Bowe Bergdahl was born March 28, 1986, in Sun Valley. He and his older sister, Sky Albrecht, were home-schooled in Croy Canyon west of Hailey by their mother, Jani Bergdahl, and father, Bob, who until recently worked as a United Parcel Service delivery driver.
An accomplished outdoorsman and sharpshooter, Bowe Bergdahl studied fencing and martial arts before taking up ballet at the Sun Valley Ballet School. He is known to prefer bicycles to automobiles and have a taste for adventure.
“Bowe never owned a car,” said former Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling, who once rented Bergdahl a house. “He doesn’t like them. He would regularly ride his bicycle to work, 15 or 20 miles each way, as he went north up to Ketchum and Sun Valley.”
Bergdahl rode his bike along the coast of California, fished for a season in Alaska and held jobs at an airport and at a gun club. He also worked for two years as a barista at Zaney’s Coffeehouse in Hailey before joining the Army in 2008.
Neighbors and friends describe him as quiet, intelligent and kind.
Bob Bergdahl said in a Rolling Stone interview in 2012 that as devout Calvinists, the parents instructed the Bergdahl children for six hours a day, including the writings of religious thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine.
“Ethics and morality would be constant verbiage in our conversations,” his father recalled in the article. “Bowe was definitely instilled with truth. He was very philosophical about perceiving ethics.”
Bob Bergdahl said in the Rolling Stone article that Bowe was enticed into joining the Army with the promise that he would be going overseas to help Afghan villagers rebuild their lives and learn to defend themselves.
“We were given a fictitious picture, an artificially created picture of what we were doing in Afghanistan,” Bob Bergdahl was quoted as saying in the article.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org
On July 22, 2009, a candlelight vigil for captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl drew more than 500 people to Hop Porter Park in Hailey. An event planned to celebrate his release five years later on June 28 is expected to draw thousands. The following is a timeline of major events covered by the Idaho Mountain Express during Bergdahl’s captivity:
- June 30, 2009: Bergdahl is captured in Paktika province, Afghanistan.
- July 18, 2009: Taliban releases first video of Bergdahl on the Internet.
- Dec. 25, 2009: Taliban release second video of Bergdahl calling for end to U.S. military actions.
- Feb. 5, 2010: Taliban threaten to kill Bergdahl unless 22 prisoners are released, including a Pakistani neuroscientist.
- April 7, 2010: Taliban release video of Bergdahl saying, “I want to go home.”
- April 9, 2010: Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) calls for prisoner exchange.
- Oct. 13, 2010: Bergdahl escapes and is recaptured after three days, seen in eastern Afghanistan.
- Dec. 10, 2010: Fourth video released by Taliban shows Bergdahl injured in face.
- May 4, 2011: Fifth video of Bergdahl released by Taliban, following death of Osama bin Laden.
- May 6, 2011: Bob Bergdahl posts YouTube video to Taliban calling for his son’s release.
- Aug. 30, 2011: Secret U.S. negotiations with Taliban leaked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
- Jan. 3, 2012: Taliban opens office for negotiations in Qatar, later rebuffs Pentagon official.
- May 2, 2012: Bob Bergdahl speaks to Idaho Mountain Express, breaking three-year silence with media; calls for grassroots efforts to free his son.
- May 14, 2012: Bob Bergdahl in contact with Taliban, criticizes U.S.’s night raids on suspected insurgents.
- June 7, 2012: Rolling Stone article details Bergdahl’s disillusionment with U.S. military in Afghanistan, suggests he left his post willingly.
- July 27, 2012: “Free Bergdahl” petition gathers 250,000 signatures.
- Aug. 10, 2012: Prisoner swap back on table in Qatar; Bergdahl for five Taliban detainees.
- June 7, 2013: Red Cross delivers letter from Bowe Bergdahl to his parents.
- June 20, 2013: Taliban offers to trade Bergdahl for five Guantanamo detainees.
- June 22, 2013: 2,000 gather at Hop Porter Park on fourth anniversary of Bergdahl’s capture.
- Nov. 22, 2013: Christmas card campaign begins, eventually sending 700,000 cards in support of Bowe to White House.
- Dec. 14, 2013: “Proof of life” video shows Bergdahl in poor health.
- Jan. 16, 2014: Bergdahl said by Taliban to be staging hunger strikes.
- Feb. 14, 2014; Celebrity support for Bergdahl mounts, including Paul McCartney, Queen Latifah and Carole King.
- May 31, 2014: Bergdahl released in eastern Afghanistan in exchange for five Taliban detainees.