Hunt for Bergdahl Hindered by Dangerous 'False tips'

Thursday, 05 Jun 2014 09:43 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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A former special operations forces officer has revealed that “false tips” from militants in Afghanistan led American troops into dangerous traps during the hunt for missing soldier Bowe Bergdahl, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The unidentified officer said that soon after then-Pfc. Bergdahl mysteriously disappeared from his post on June 30, 2009 in an eastern province, the Army launched a series of rescue raids to track him down.

Troops carried out the search, even though the would-be rescuers were reluctant to put their lives on the line for a soldier that they believed had deserted his post.

“We made every effort to find him," the officer said. "People weren't happy about it. We didn't like it, but we did what we were ordered to do."

Their concerns were compounded by a series of scares during the search, the officer added, noting that in one case an Army team ran into a house rigged with explosives. During the hunt, U.S. troops also found a car wired with a bomb and a suicide vest set to detonate at another possible site.

The frantic, frightening search for the missing soldier came to light as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday refuted claims that six Americans had been killed during the raids, according to the newspaper.

"I don't know of circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sgt. Bergdahl," he said.

The deliberate “false tips” by Islamic extremists hampered the efforts to find Bergdahl, giving the Taliban enough time to whisk him away across the border into Pakistan, the Journal said.

In a desperate effort to retrieve Bergdahl, the Army sent out surveillance drones while also setting up a special command center at Bagram Air Field, and creating checkpoints on the Pakistan border.

U.S. troops were told by a young boy that an American soldier was crawling along the ground trying to find someone who spoke English, while intercepted phone conversations showed that Afghans had been talking about an American looking for English-speaking locals, the Journal said.

According to former military officials and Army documents, U.S. forces followed up on every possible lead while also gaining intelligence from Central Intelligence Agency operations and National Security Agency intercepts.

"He was in seven different places at one time," said a former military officer. "It was a mess for the first couple of days."

When U.S. intelligence operators later learned that Bergdahl had been smuggled into Pakistan by the Taliban, the military was reluctant to launch a rescue mission because of the many dangers it involved as well as the sensitive diplomatic issues involving raids into another country, the Journal added.

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