By Melinda Carstensen
The Obama administration is facing criticism after rescuing a U.S. military hostage in Afghanistan whose fellow troops say he abandoned their platoon and went hunting for the Taliban alone.
Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, walked off the dangerous Paktika Province on the border of Pakistan after midnight on June 30, 2009, the New York Times reports. Bergdahl, who was later promoted to a sergeant position, left a note in his tent saying he had lost faith in the Army, and brought along a few essentials but left his weaponry behind.
He was subsequently captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and kept prisoner for five years, spurring frequent meetings with foreign officials and a reported 90-day, bloody search for the soldier.
To save Bergdahl, whose captivity ended Saturday, the U.S. released five high-level members of the Taliban from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Washington Post reports. Former prisoners include commanders, former ministers of the Taliban government, and one man who had been directly tied to the late al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. They will spend one year in Qatar before returning to Afghanistan.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the government did what it felt was necessary to bring Bergdahl home, the Post reports.
“We did not have 30 days to wait to get this done,” he said in a speech to a think tank. “And when you’re commander in chief, you have to act when there is an opportunity for action.”
But some Republicans are questioning whether the administration made the right decision.
“The five terrorists released were the hardest of the hard-core,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told the Post. “I fear President Obama’s decision will inevitably lead to more Americans being kidnapped and held hostage throughout the world.”
The Obama administration has apologized to congressional leaders for not giving them notice that a deal to free Bergdahl was in the works.
Second Lt. Darryn Andrews had been deployed hours after Bergdahl left his post and was reportedly one of at least two, and possibly six others, who lost their lives during the soldier’s rescue mission.
His mother, Sondra Andrews, said the military told her family that their son, who was 34, was killed while trying to pursue a top Taliban fighter.
“By omission, we assumed they were just pursuing the Taliban,” she told the Army Times. “Then the guys [Darryn Andrews served with] started contacting me. They said, ‘No, ma’am, we were looking for [Bergdahl].’”
Fellow troops described Bergdahl to the Times as a recluse, someone who skipped barbecues and other social events.
“He was always in his bunk,” said Cody Full, a member of Bergdahl’s former platoon. “He ordered Rosetta Stone for all the languages there, learning Dari and Arabic and Pashto.”
Joshua Cornelison, who was a medic in Bergdahl’s platoon, said those days, “if we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report,” the New York Times reported.
That search involved Predator drones, Apache attack helicopters and military tracking dogs. Other soldiers have come forth and said the Taliban attacked combat outposts when they knew soldiers were out searching for Bergdahl.
“I won’t get into the politics,” Cornelison said, “but now that he’s back he needs to be held 100 percent accountable. For putting myself and 29 other people in my platoon in hell for 90 days.”
Rear Adm. John Kirby, spokesman for the Pentagon, told the Post it didn’t matter how Bergdahl was taken captive, just that he’s an American soldier.
“It doesn’t matter under what circumstances he left … We have an obligation to recover all of those who are missing in action.”