Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Taliban: Bergdahl alive but staging hunger strikes

Petition for soldier's release seeks 100,000 signatures


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

This image was taken from one of several videos of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl released by his Taliban-affiliated captors. Images from the latest video have not been released to the public. Courtesy photo

    The Taliban captors of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have come forward to say that their prisoner is alive, but in poor health after undertaking hunger strikes.
    The news of Bergdahl’s condition was reported by NBC News on Jan 16, based on communications with an official Afghan Taliban spokesman.
    “He is our special guest, and we consider him a precious bird; that’s why our men are taking care of him. We have been arranging food of his choice, but sometimes he stops eating and drinking and his hunger strike continues for a few days,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, NBC reported.
    Bergdahl was born and raised in Blaine County. He was captured in the Paktika province of Afghanistan in June 2009. He is believed by the U.S. military to be in captivity somewhere in Pakistan.
    Two years ago, Bergdahl was the subject of proposed peace negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban.
    “U.S. officials had promised us that first they would exchange prisoners and then start peace talks. But it didn’t take place. And finally when there was no hope of prisoners swap, the soldier was returned to the Haqqani network,” NBC reported that a Taliban commander said.
    The report of his current condition came after the U.S. military obtained a “proof of life” video of Bergdahl earlier this month.
    According to the NBC report, a Taliban commander “said that Maulvi Sangeen, senior commander of the powerful Haqqani terror network (a faction of the Afghan Taliban), kidnapped Bergdahl from Paktika province in southern Afghanistan, near Pakistan’s troubled South Waziristan, in June 2009.


He is our special guest, and we consider him a precious bird.”
Taliban spokesman




    “Bergdahl was later shifted to Pakistan’s tribal areas and held in the mountains, according to the Taliban commander. His captor, Sangeen, died in a U.S. drone attack last year in Pakistan’s North Waziristan,” NBC reported.
    “Two years ago, when the Taliban opened their office in Qatar for peace talks with the U.S., there were prospects of an exchange of prisoners. The Haqqani network handed Bergdahl over to the Afghan Taliban because they wanted to exchange him for their top five commanders being held at Guantanamo Bay,” NBC reported the Taliban commander said.
    Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates responded to questions from NBC about Bergdhal last week, saying, “I think it’s fair to say that the [U.S. and coalition forces] commanders in Afghanistan never let up the effort to try and find him and still applied intelligence resources and assets to try to find him.”
    Public support for the release of Bergdahl has been steady since his capture four and a half years ago. Recently, a “We the People” petition was begun by a support group to urge an official response from the White House on Bergdahl’s plight.
    As of Tuesday morning, 3,031 people had signed the petition. In order to try to elicit an official response from President Barack Obama, a group organizing the petition is aiming to gather 96,969 more signatures by Feb.16.
    For more information about the petition, go to http://supportbowe.org/2014/01/18/bowe-bergdahl-petition-white-house-website.
Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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