Thursday, June 20, 2013

Taliban Offer To Release Fort Richardson Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl In Exchange For Five Taliban Militants At Guantanamo

As an opening gambit to the upcoming negotiations between the United States and the Taliban, the Taliban have offered to release U.S. Arny Sgt (E-5) Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five of the most senior Taliban militants currently incarcerated at Guantanamo. The five militants are identified as Mohammad Fazl, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Mullah Norullah Nuri, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammed Nabi. This represents significant progress from four years ago, when the Taliban were demanding $1,000,000 in ransom and the release of 21 senior Taliban prisoners and Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui. The proposal to trade Sgt. Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees was made by senior Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail in response to a question during a phone interview with The Associated Press from the militants' political office in Doha, Qatar. Suhail said fighting would not stop as a precondition to negotiations, and the Taliban proved it by launching a rocket attack on Bagram Air Base shortly thereafter, killing four American troops.

Reaction: The Obama Administration is noncommittal at this point, except to say that the release of Bergdahl has always been a top priority. From Hailey, Idaho, the home of Bergdahl's parents Bob and Jani Bergdahl, the parents actually got the news through the media before being officially notified through U.S. Army channels, and were reportedly ecstatic. Even though Sgt. Bergdahl was assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska before his deployment to Afghanistan and subsequent capture, the Army has been keeping Bergdahl's parents informed through the offices of Col. Timothy Marsano, an Idaho National Guard public affairs officer. On June 6th, the Bergdahls received a letter from Bowe that left them greatly relieved, and Idaho residents are holding a Bring Back Bowe rally in Haily on June 22nd.

Two advocacy websites exist in support of Sgt. Bergdahl:

-- http://supportbowe.org/

-- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bring-Bowe-Bergdahl-Home/105831760749

Background: For those not familiar with the story. In 2009, then-PFC Bowe Bergdahl was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. After deploying with his unit to Afghanistan, he went missing on June 30th, 2009. The most credible account holds that Bergdahl was grabbed after falling behind while on patrol, which means the Taliban were shadowing his group. On July 18th, 2009, the Taliban released a video showing they had captured Bergdahl. In the video, Bergdahl appeared downcast and frightened. A Department of Defense statement issued on July 19th confirmed that Bergdahl was declared “missing/whereabouts unknown” on July 1st, and his status was changed to “missing/captured” on July 3rd. In the interim, the Army promoted Bergdahl to Specialist (E-4) In June 2010, and Sergeant (E-5) on June 17th, 2011.

American troops are trained to look for opportunities to escape if captured. So instead of copping an attitude with his captors, Bergdahl decided to put on an act to weaken their vigilance. He started acting friendly and cooperative, even trying to learn Pashto, the language of his captors. And it paid off. His captors removed the restraints they had bound him with to prevent him from escaping. Early in the summer of 2011, they began letting him move around rather freely outside. On occasion, Bergdahl was even allowed to carry an old, loaded rifle and join the guerrillas as they hunted birds and rabbits for food and sport in the mountains.

But it was all a ruse, for one night in late August or early September 2011, Bergdahl jumped from a first-floor window of the mud-brick house in Pakistan in which he had been imprisoned and headed into the nearby underbrush and forested mountains. But the area was virtually depopulated and he could find no one to help him. Three days later, his captors finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked -— he had spent three days without food or water -— hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves. Even so, he put up a stiff fight, requiring five militants to subdue him. He is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances, moving him from place to place, hoping to elude any U.S. efforts to find him. One Afghan source says Bergdahl’s captors shuttle him back and forth across the border. By all accounts, he is not being abused, and appears to be in good health.

The Taliban tried to claim that Bergdahl was drunk when he was captured, and that he had given anti-American statements and even provided the Taliban military training. But his escape attempt debunks all those rumors. Bowe Bergdahl deserves to be considered a genuine American hero.

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