Despite Video Of Bergdahl's Release, Questions Dog His Capture

Jun 4, 2014
Originally published on June 5, 2014 9:40 am

Even as the Taliban released a video of Army Sgt. Bergdahl's release, questions continue to surround his initial disappearance. Bergdahl has said he was captured by the Taliban while lagging behind on a patrol. In a classified report produced in 2010, the Army paints him as a soldier troubled by U.S. policy, but it does not go so far as to call him a deserter. Still, many wonder whether Bergdahl planned to return before his capture.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. A video released by the Taliban in Afghanistan is adding to the debate this week about a prisoner swap. The U.S. traded five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for the release of American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. And that video shows the moment that Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. Special Forces. The Taliban brought Bergdahl in a pickup truck. And then the American commandos arrived by helicopter.


SIEGEL: After a brief exchange, the militants turned Bergdahl over to the Americans. NPR's Tom Bowman has been through the video and talking to experts about what it tells us. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Robert.

SIEGEL: What else struck you about that Taliban video?

BOWMAN: Well, Robert, what really struck me was this is something you rarely see - American Special Operations forces on the one side, armed Taliban on the other side - and not shooting at each other. This exchange also took place in Khost Province. I've been there with U.S. troops, and it's one of the more dangerous areas in Afghanistan.

Now, in the video you see a Taliban fighter standing there and holding a white flag tied to what looks like a long stick. Other Taliban, you can see standing off to the side holding AK-47s. And then two Americans walked toward them wearing civilian clothes. They quickly pat Bergdahl down to check for explosives and then put him in a helicopter and quickly get out of there, flying over the hills.

SIEGEL: And the video shows Bowe Bergdahl also waiting in the truck. What can you make of that?

BOWMAN: Well, he seemed healthy from what I saw. He walked to the helicopter, although a bit haltingly. He looked somewhat bewildered, and he kept blinking, too. But he did not appear gaunt. And near the end of the video words flash on the screen, don't come back to Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: This video, Tom, offers a little more information about Bergdahl's release. But there are still a lot of questions about how he got captured in the first place - whether he deserted, as some have charged. What are you hearing about that?

BOWMAN: Well, the U.S. military is saying very little about Bergdahl, other than that he's in stable condition at Landstuhl Military Hospital in Germany. He's expected to arrive at an Army Medical Center in Texas as early as this weekend. And there he'll be reunited with his parents and undergo additional care. Now, Army leaders have said the first order of business is to make sure he's healthy, that he gets medical and psychological care. And then they'll mount an investigation to determine what, if any, military laws he broke and whether he should be prosecuted.

SIEGEL: And the investigation will look into the question of how he went missing in the first place?

BOWMAN: Right, well, that's right. But actually, Robert, this will be the second investigation because the Army already mounted an investigation right after he disappeared. Soldiers in Bergdahl's unit said that they were questioned by CIA officials, military investigators who kind of descended on their outpost. And that report was completed back in 2010.

This is a classified report now. And I'm told by those who've read it that it's exhaustive, that it looks that conditions at his combat outposts, how he met with Afghan security forces on a routine basis. It looks at his state of mind and how he'd gone sour on the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. And that was something we heard from fellow soldiers, that he was, again, against the mission, how they were handling it. He wanted to help Afghans. He just did not see that happening.

SIEGEL: And did that report reach any conclusions?

BOWMAN: Well, it found that he clearly left his post of his own accord. He had not lagged behind on a patrol, which is what he said in a video the Taliban released a month after he left. But here's what's interesting, Robert. We're told the report says he left his post at least twice before - once in Afghanistan, once in the United States at an Army training center in California. Both times he returned several hours later. So there's a sense that maybe he would have returned had he not been taken by the Taliban.

SIEGEL: Again, that conclusion to a report that has not been publicly released, so we haven't yet seen that. But it addresses this question of the day in Washington - what exactly were the terms of Bowe Bergdahl's capture? Tom Bowman, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.