13-06-26 Robert Bergdahl CYMKL.jpg

Robert Bergdahl, seen here with wife Jani at a rally in Hailey in 2013, faced backlash after his son, Bowe Bergdahl, was released from Taliban custody via prisoner exchange during the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Doha, Qatar, on Monday to seek support for the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan and to work with allies in the Middle East on how to respond to the Taliban’s recent takeover of the country.

The fateful end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan reminded Blaine County local Robert Bergdahl of events that transpired seven years ago following the release of his son Bowe Bergdahl in a controversial prisoner swap for five top Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Robert and Jani Bergdahl were welcomed to the White House on May 31, 2014, by President Barack Obama to announce the freedom of their son after five years imprisonment.

“I thanked Khalifa al Thani of Qatar in the Rose Garden,” Bergdahl said. “We were working directly with Tony Blinken during the last six months of our son’s captivity.”

In 2014, Blinken was serving as President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser. Khalifa al Thani was the Prime Minister of Qatar.

Today, the Taliban are in charge of Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was taken captive by the Taliban after walking away from an observation post in Paktika province in June 2009. He was tortured during captivity. Following his release, he was sentenced in November 2017 to be dishonorably discharged from the military, reduced in rank to private and fined $1,000 per month from his pay for 10 months with no prison time.

Robert Bergdahl said he and his supporters worked with the “politically compromised” American Red Cross and their “more responsible parent organization,” the International Committee of the Red Cross, to secure his son’s freedom.

“When ICRC representatives visited detainees in Guantanamo, documenting torture as a war crime, we would meet them in Washington to document the reciprocal torture by the Haqqani network,” said Bergdahl, referring to the FBI-designated terrorist organization whose leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is now acting interior minister of the Taliban government in Kabul.

Robert Bergdahl said it is no surprise that Blinken headed to Qatar following the fall of Kabul.

“Qatar has an intelligence service that proved to be reliable as interlocutors with the Taliban leadership,” said Bergdahl, who worked for years behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to secure his son’s release.

“Al Thani proved to be capable of hosting diplomacy between Pakistan, U.S. and Taliban leadership, including the Haqqani faction, albeit with his strategic regional political ambitions,” Bergdahl said. “Back-channel diplomacy in Doha became the center of gravity after the failed counterinsurgency surge in the early part of the first Obama administration.

“In many ways, the U.S. war in Afghanistan became a war inside the Beltway; the CIA and Department of State versus the Department of Defense and the defense industry,” he said.

Bowe Bergdahl’s release was celebrated by the Obama Administration, yet his freedom sparked a backlash in the soldier’s hometown when Hailey leaders called for a welcome home party. Death threats were sent to city leaders and Bergdahl supporters due to his controversial desertion, which many said led to U.S. military casualties.

Robert Bergdahl said U.S. military actions during the Afghan War, which began to hunt down Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, were unethical, and a continuation of a series of “military intimidations” overseas in many countries.

“Military force should never proceed against a civilian population until all diplomacy has been completely exhausted. This has not been implemented since 9/11,” said Bergdahl. “The best strategy against our global competitors is an honest examination of our own ambitions and capacity. Exactly how much are Americans willing to spend on alleged ‘national security’ when faced with declining infrastructure, economic inequality, and a monumental public health crisis at home?”

On Wednesday, ABC News reported that two of the Taliban leaders freed during the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange in 2014 now hold top posts in the Taliban government in Kabul.

At the time of the prisoner swap, Sen. John McCain, now deceased, referred to the Taliban leaders as “the hardest of the hardcore” and “high risk.”

Despite many reports that the Taliban have aided al Qaeda, the group responsible for the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Bergdahl said military actions in Afghanistan have been misguided.

“Afghan War vets? Ask them what they were fighting for,” said Bergdahl. “Do they still believe, despite the 20 years of mounting volumes of evidence, they were fighting the perpetrators of 9/11? We now know that post 9/11 actions were based on carefully constructed misinformation to achieve the appearance of competency at the highest level of government, first in Afghanistan, then Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction myth [in Iraq] was preceded by the myth of an al Qaeda/Taliban merger [in Afghanistan]. It never happened.”

Email the writer: tevans@mtexpress.com

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