Friday, January 17, 2014

Report: Bergdahl alive but in poor health

New ‘proof of life’ video obtained by U.S. military

Express Staff Writer

In this still photo from a previous video release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in captivity, the Hailey-area soldier is shown outdoors with one of his captors. The U.S. military now believes Bergdahl is being held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network in Pakistan. Photo courtesy of Intel Center

     According to national news sources, the U.S. military is in possession of a new video of POW Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, proving that he was still alive as of Dec. 14, but possibly in poor health.

     Bergdahl grew up in Blaine County and worked as a barista at Zaney’s coffeehouse in Hailey. While on active duty in 2009 at an outpost in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, he was captured by enemy forces linked to the Taliban. He is the only U.S. soldier in captivity. 

     Bergdahl’s plight has captured the attention of the American public. As a result, the soldier has become an unwitting but crucial player in peace negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

     Sue Martin, the owner of Zaney’s, said she is in regular contact with Bergdahl’s parents, who reside west of Hailey. She said the family appreciates the public displays of support for their son.

      “Because this new video indicates that he [Bowe Bergdahl] is alive, I hope that the people holding him are interested in negotiating, and that we can come to a peaceful resolution for all parties as soon as possible,” Martin said.

     It has been three years since the last video was released on the Internet by Bergdahl’s Taliban captors. The U.S. military has deemed past videos to be propaganda because they feature Bergdahl calling for an end to U.S. military action in the region.

     Bergdahl’s captors have used the Internet to distribute several videos of the soldier in captivity, at various times threatening to kill him if the U.S. refused to release Taliban prisoners of war from the Afghan conflict, or continued to make drone strikes in the region.

     Yet, Bergdahl is apparently still alive.

     CNN reported on Wednesday that the new video (which has not been released by U.S. intelligence officials onto the Internet) contains a time reference to events which took place as late as Dec. 14. The video reportedly also shows Bergdahl in a diminished state of health.

     “It was not a propaganda release to journalists,” stated The New York Times on Wednesday, “… making it likely that is was seized in an operation by Americans or allies.”

     Following news reports of the video, the Pentagon issued a news release. “We cannot discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that on a daily basis—using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools—we work to see Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely,” said Cmdr. Elissa Smith.

     The Bergdahl family released a statement through the Idaho National Guard Wednesday that stated, “Today we learned that a new video of our son, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, has been distributed by his captors. Naturally, this is very important to us and our resolve to continue our efforts to bring Bowe home as soon as possible. As we have done so many times over the past four and a half years, we request his captors to release him safely so that our only son can be reunited with his mother and father.”

“I hope that the people holding him are
interested in negotiating, and that we can
come to a peaceful resolution.”

Sue Martin, Family friend

     The parents also spoke directly to their son, saying, “BOWE—If you see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!”

     During the first few years of their son’s captivity, Bowe Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, declined to speak to the press. They issued statements through the Idaho National Guard, mostly thanking the local community for signs of support.

     In 2011, Bob Bergdahl, apparently frustrated with U.S. military attempts to locate and free his son, took matters into his own hands. He released an impassioned video of his own onto the Internet, pleading with Taliban leaders by name to release his son.    

     Bob Bergdahl then proceeded to make numerous statements to the news media, including the Idaho Mountain Express. He criticized U.S.-led counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in June 2012.

     That article, written by the now-deceased journalist Michael Hastings, indicated, based on emails between Bowe Bergdahl and his father before the son was captured, that Bowe may have deserted his post and walked into Taliban hands due to his own personal disillusionment with the war.

     “I am sorry for everything here. These people [Afghans] need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live,” wrote Bergdahl to his father shortly before he was captured.

     The news of Bergdahl’s possible desertion did little to limit support for him. Thousands of people across the country have rallied to pressure the government to secure his release. In the Wood River Valley, yellow ribbons serve as reminders of his absence.

     Last year, the Bergdahl family received a letter from the Red Cross written by their son. The letter has not been released to the public.

     Bob and Jani referred to the letter last summer on the fourth anniversary of their son’s capture, while hundreds of people gathered at Hop Porter Park in Hailey to rally for public support for their son. The weekend rally coincided with scheduled peace negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban in Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has a home near Ketchum, went to Qatar that weekend, but the talks were canceled due to diplomatic tensions.

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