NYT Questions Whether Bergdahl Disappearance Cost Lives of Soldiers

Wednesday, 04 Jun 2014 07:11 AM

By Melissa Clyne

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While several soldiers who served with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan maintain that six to eight members of their unit were killed as a result of the search for Bergdahl, The New York Times questioned the validity of those claims.

Citing military reports "logging significant activities in America’s war in Afghanistan" leaked by former Pvt. Bradley Manning, now serving a 35-year prison sentence for violating the Espionage Act and other offenses, the Times reported that Bergdahl’s disappearance from his post in Paktika Province coincided with a time of "ferocious fighting."

"President Obama had decided to send a surge of additional troops to improve security, but they had not yet arrived," Charlie Savage and Andrew W. Lehren of the Times wrote. "In Paktika, the eight deaths during that period were up from five in the same three months the previous year. Across Afghanistan, 122 Americans died in that period, up from 58 in 2008."

The circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance vary, but soldiers in his platoon have said that while on duty, Bergdahl "shed his weapons and walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera, and a diary," according to CNN. Bergdahl had previously told his fellow soldiers he no longer supported the war in Afghanistan.

Over the weekend, the United States recovered Bergdahl in exchange for returning five Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That sparked outrage from lawmakers, both for the president’s failure to notify Congress within the required 30 days, as well as for "negotiating with terrorists."

The first two soldiers killed four days after Bergdahl’s June 30, 2009, disappearance were inside an outpost attacked by insurgents, according to the Times.

Former Bergdahl battalion member Nathan Bethea wrote in The Daily Beast the strike could have been avoided if the company "received its normal complement of intelligence aircraft: drones, planes, and the like." But all intelligence aircraft in the area had been instructed to find Bergdahl, and the Taliban knew the unit was short-handed and took the opportunity to attack, he said.

But according to the Times, military intelligence showed the post had been targeted at least six days before Bergdahl disappeared, referencing a log that recorded a mortar attack there. The same log indicated that Army intelligence had received information that an ambush of the outpost was in the works.

Six more soldiers were killed between Aug. 18 and Sept. 5, the Times reported, as the hunt for Bergdahl continued. A roadside bomb during a reconnaissance mission claimed the lives of two of the men, three others were killed while conducting patrols, and a sixth was shot while searching for a Taliban leader believed to be connected with Bergdahl’s captors, according to Bethea, the Times wrote.

"Still, those villages and insurgents were in the overall area of responsibility for the soldiers, and the logs make clear that the region was an insurgent hotbed," according to the newspaper.

Another member of the unit, whom the Times did not identify, said that while it’s "ludicrous" to pin all of the blame on Bergdahl’s disappearance, the soldiers were sent to patrol dangerous areas "to go look for this guy."

"I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on," former Sgt. Matt Vierkant told CNN. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."

Bergdahl’s former team leader, Sgt. Evan Buetow, told ABC News that calling Bergdahl a hero is "a spit in the face to the soldiers who were there… and more importantly it’s a spit in the face to the soldiers who died as a direct result of him leaving."

"The fact of the matter is, he deserted us in the middle of Afghanistan to go and find the Taliban," Buetow said.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has declined to say whether Bergdahl will face military justice once he is returned to the United States. The Army never classified Bergdahl as a deserter and promoted him from private to sergeant during his years in captivity.

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