US soldier Bowe Bergdahl is facing renewed criticism for his desertion in Afghanistan after it was revealed four ex-Guantanamo Bay inmates he was exchanged for are in the new Taliban government.
Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in June 2009 and kept in a shark cage after deciding to abandon Observation Post Mest in eastern Afghanistan and walk 18 miles to complain about Army leadership to a general.
The Idaho native, now 35, was released in 2014 after a controversial trade for the “Guantanamo Five” and later court-martialed after pleading guilty to desertion.
His actions have since been the target of intense backlash from both his fellow soldiers on the 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, and leading politicians.
Bergdahl even found a way to unite the late senator John McCain and former President Donald Trump who both branded him a traitor and deserter.
In 2015, he publicly spoke out about his decision to leave his base on the second season of the hit podcast Serial with filmmaker Mark Boal.
In the series, Bergdahl admitted that he entered the US Army with the idea of proving himself as something of a “super-soldier” akin to the fictional CIA spy Jason Bourne.
Yet he claimed that just months after his graduation and deployment he had become disillusioned with army leadership and was willing to jeopardize the safety of his platoon in order to make a complaint.
“All I was seeing was basically leadership failure to the point that the lives of the guys standing next me to were literally, from what I could see, in danger of something seriously going wrong, and somebody being killed,” he told the series.
Believing that nobody would take his complaints seriously, he devised a plan to hike 18 miles to another Army base to speak to a general.
He left the base before dawn on June 30, 2009, and was reported missing the next day amid fears he had been snatched by the Taliban.
“I was fully confident that when someone took a look at the situation…that people would understand that I was right. What was going on was a danger to the lives of the men of that company,” he said.
After leaving his post and his gun behind, he set out with only a bottle of water and a compass but said that after 20 minutes in remote Afghanistan, he knew that he had made a bad decision.
In the book AMERICAN CIPHER: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in Afghanistan, authors Matt Farwell and Michael Ames described how he saw the motorbikes of the Taliban approaching him but knew that there’s “nothing I can do.”
He was caught by six men in their early twenties on five motorbikes who blindfolded him and tied his hands behind his back before driving him to a two-story home and emptying his pockets.
FIRST DAY AS A HOSTAGE
The group then made a mad scramble to find someone who could speak English while children threw rocks at Bergdahl.
He described how a man in glasses arrived and asked how he was before confirming through his Army ID that he was a US soldier.
Bergdahl said a blanket was thrown over his head and he was rushed to another town where children again threw rocks at him.
At this point, he attempted to make a break for freedom but was chased down by a gang of men and struck with the butt of a rifle.
After this, he was constantly watched and locked in a small room.
That first day, the group recorded a ten-second video of Bergdahl which was delivered to Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. in Kabul, along with a ransom demand.
By dusk, he was once again thrown in the back of a pickup truck under a layer of blankets.
“If you move, I am going to kill you,” a man reportedly told him in broken English. “But don’t worry. We will take you to another place.”
HELD IN A SHARK CAGE
Over the next five years, Bergdahl revealed that he was at times locked in a metal shark cage in total darkness for weeks on end as a form of punishment.
It reportedly came after he attempted to escape.
“He’s said that they kept him in a shark cage in total darkness for weeks, possibly months,” one American official told the New York Times after Bergdahl was brought to a German hospital for treatment following his release.
During his five years as a Taliban hostage, Bergdahl had been heralded as a hero but a new narrative began to emerge as more of his fellow soldiers made claims he left the base voluntarily.
They also began to demand he be punished for putting the lives of those who had to search for him at risk.
“He walked away from his duty as an American soldier — he deserted,” Joshua Cornelison, the platoon medic, told the Los Angeles Times.
“People are calling him a hero, and that is absolutely wrong.”
He’s a deserter — 100% — in every definition of the word.
Another platoon member, Evan Buetow, also told the Times that Bergdahl had previously spoken about “walking across the mountains on his own” and how they had thought he was joking until he disappeared.
Buetow added that Bergdahl was “upset at the way the Army was handling the war effort in Afghanistan.”
“I told him we signed on the line, and this was our mission.”
“He’s a deserter — 100% — in every definition of the word,” Buetow added.
“We want him to answer for that.”
Other members of the 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, also branded him an outsider who was quiet and reserved and did not readily share information with other soldiers.
Gerald Sutton, a former fellow platoon member, told the Times he had previously heard Bergdahl question out loud what it would be like “to be left out on his own.”
He reportedly also slept in a one-man tent at the observation post and carried a notebook everywhere.
The story of his capture on Serial matched what Bergdahl told Army investigators looking into his court-martial that same year.
He was charged with one count of Article 85, "Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty," and one count of Article 99, "Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place."
Bergdahl was convicted in 2017 and sentenced to a dishonorable discharge, reduction to the grade of private, and forfeiture of $1,000 in salary per month for ten months.
Afghanistan’s new Taliban government was revealed on Tuesday less than a week after the US declared the Afghan war was over after 20 years and carried out a chaotic evacuation before the August 30 deadline.
It includes four memberships of the hardline “Guantanamo Five” who were traded in 2014 to free Bergdahl from the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network.
The Obama administration faced backlash at the time over the trade even before it was fully confirmed Bergdahl had walked from his post.
The Taliban has now appointed Acting Director of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, Acting Minister of Borders and Tribal Affairs Norullah Noori, Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Fazl, and Acting Minister of Information and Culture Khairullah Khairkhah.
“I have déjà vu knowing it’s the same national security team in place now that then 'exchanged' such high-value terrorists for traitor Bowe Bergdahl,” Republican Rep. Mike Waltz, a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, told DailyMail.com.
“I personally led searches for Bergdahl and soldiers in other units lost their lives in search of him.
“Seeing these former Guantanamo prisoners now in charge of a terrorist state that will once again threaten the homeland is a slap in the face to every veteran, gold star family, and victims of 9/11.
“Despite this, the Biden Administration has still yet to learn appeasement has serious national security consequences and we are more unsafe now as a result of this disastrous withdrawal.”
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