Sunday, 26 July 2009

Speculation grows that Bergdahl is a deserter

Is PFC Bowe Bergdahl, the American GI who disappeared on 30 June and was allegedly captured in eastern Afghanistan by the Taliban, a deserter? Stories now appearing on a number of US military blogs and elsewhere suggest that this is the case. Bouhammer's Afghanistan Blog makes the case in detail. He points to the video issued by the Taliban of Bergdahl eating and talking and notes that "the soldier is not under any duress, stress, strain, etc. I think it is safe to call it as it is."
He adds: "I saw an AP report that stated this soldier lagged behind on a patrol and it implied he was kidnapped that way. But the same article said he was not noticed missing until a formation the next day. I can tell you that story is complete BS. No leader of any kind takes his unit on dismounted patrol and then comes back into the base without knowing he has everyone. Afghanistan is not the type of environment where everyone walks “Ranger File” or “Ducks in a Row” and you lose someone because they are walking slow. We're not talking about triple canopy jungle here, we are talking about desert. Regardless, that story is completely false and shame on the Associated Press for even thinking about printing it, much less actually printing it."
If you watch the full video, which is over 20 minutes long, a number of points strike you immediately. Bergdahl appears to have been schooled. He says US casualties in Afghanistan are higher than admitted and that soldiers' morale is low and that they are scared. Huge numbers of soldiers are committing suicide, going AWOL or deserting, he says. He says he is being well treated, "as a guest in a regular household in America", and that he sees the Taliban as "ordinary people fighting for their country". The video is effectively Taliban propaganda, spoken by Bergdahl. One other interesting point: his interrogator, who is never seen, speaks with a clear English accent.
Bouhammer is not the only person arguing that Bergdahl is a deserter. PJ Tobia, a freelance reporter living in Kabul, is much more specific. "I’ve been reporting for over a week (along with the AP and WaPo) that Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who’s gone missing in eastern Afghanistan, walked off the base on his own accord.
Now, somebody close to the people searching for Bergdahl has repeated this assertion saying that the soldier left “a note behind that said he was going to the mountains to find himself. He took a journal and 4 or 5 knives with him.” My source tells me that Bergdahl arrived at a village and asked if anybody spoke English. That’s when he was captured."
Tobia notes that during the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan many Russian soldiers deserted: "Back in the 80’s Russian soldiers defected regularly. Artyom Borovik’s fantastic book The Hidden War talks at great length about Soviet soldiers who fled their bases and joined the Mujahidin. Many of them fought alongside their former enemies for years. A few even stayed here in Afghanistan. One of them is a well-known cab driver here in Kabul, though I’ve never met him. I’m told that another was a bodyguard for Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan hero and Northern Alliance leader who helped drive the Russians out of this country."
The most likely explanation for Bergdahl's 'capture' is that villagers close to his base sold or passed him on to the Haqqani Taliban network, which is active in Paktika, the region in which he disappeared. AP says he is being held by Maulvi Sangin. In the video, recorded on or about 14 July, his interrogator clumsily attempts to suggest he is in Kandahar. In their first statement on Bergdahl, issued on 6 July, the Taliban claimed that a soldier had come out of his garrison at a place called Malakh in Yousaf Khel district of Paktika and had been captured by mujahideen.

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