- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009


A U.S. soldier who was captured by Taliban militants in Afghanistan earlier this month appeared on a video posted Saturday on a Web site.

A Defense Department statement on Sunday identified the soldier as Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho, according to the Associated Press, which first reported on the video. The statement also says his status is now classified as missing-captured, rather than whereabouts unknown.

It was the first time Pfc. Bergdahl has been seen since he went missing from his base in eastern Afghanistan on June 30. The Taliban announced July 6 that it had captured the soldier.

The 28-minute video shows Pfc. Bergdahl with his head shaved and the start of a beard, according to the AP. One of his captors is seen holding the soldier’s dog tag up to the camera to reveal his name and ID number for authenticity. Pfc. Bergdahl then gives his name, age and hometown. He gives the date of the video as July 14.

Pfc. Bergdahl, speaking in English, says on the video that he was captured when he lagged behind on a patrol.

According to the AP, his captors ask him his views on the war, which he calls extremely hard, his desire to learn more about Islam and the morale of American soldiers, which he said was low.

Asked how he was doing, the Pfc. Bergdahl said on the video: “Well, I’m scared, scared I won’t be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.”

He begins to answer questions in a matter-of-fact and sober voice, occasionally facing the camera, looking down and sometimes looking to the questioner on his left.

He later chokes up when discussing his family and his hope to marry his girlfriend.

“I have my girlfriend, who is hoping to marry,” Pfc. Bergdahl said. “I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them every day when I’m gone. I miss them and I’m afraid that I might not ever see them again, and that I’ll never be able to tell them that I love them again, and I’ll never be able to hug them.”

He is also prompted by his interrogators to give a message to the American people.

“To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” he said. “Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country. Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power.”

It is difficult to verify the authenticity of the date of the video, but Pfc. Bergdahl says that he heard that a Chinook helicopter carrying 37 NATO troops had been shot down over Helmand - on July 14 a helicopter was shot down in southern Afghanistan, but it was carrying civilians on a reported humanitarian mission for NATO forces. All six Ukrainian passengers died in the crash, and a child on the ground was killed.

On Thursday, a local Taliban leader issued a warning that the captured soldier will be killed unless the United States stopped its military operations in parts of Afghanistan. Abdullah Jalali, a spokesman for Taliban commander Mawlavi Angina, told the AP that the soldier would be killed unless the United States stops air strikes in Ghazni province’s Giro district and Paktika province’s Khoshamand district. He did not explain why the Taliban chose those areas. While the U.S. military is believed to be engaged in operations in those districts, its current focus is in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.

On July 2, the U.S. military said an American soldier had disappeared after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan counterparts and was believed to have been taken prisoner. A U.S. defense official said the soldier was noticed missing during a routine check of the unit on June 30 and was first listed as “duty status whereabouts unknown.”

Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors.

But Afghan police Gen. Nabi Mullakheil said the soldier went missing in eastern Paktika province near the border with Pakistan from an American base. The region is known to be Taliban-infested.

The most important insurgent group operating in that area is known as Haqqani network and is led by the warlord Siraj Haqqani, whom the U.S. has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings, including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed about 60 people, according to the AP. The Haqqani group also was linked to an assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai early last year.

On Saturday, a U.S. military official in Kabul, Col. Greg Julian, told the AP that the U.S. was “still doing everything we can to return him safely.”

Col. Julian said U.S. troops had distributed two fliers in the area where Pfc. Bergdahl disappeared. One of them asked for information on the missing soldier and offered a $25,000 reward for his return. The other said “please return our soldier safely” or “we will hunt you,” according to Col. Julian.

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