- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2009

The Pentagon on Sunday confirmed that a U.S. soldier who went missing from his base in Afghanistan has been captured and identified him as a private from Idaho serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment.

The Defense Department released the name of Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, of Ketchum, Idaho, one day after he was seen in a video posted online, saying he was “scared I won’t be able to go home.”

The video provided the first public glimpse of the American.

The Pentagon statement said Pfc. Bergdahl’s status was listed as “whereabouts unknown” July 1 and was changed to “missing-captured” July 3. He is a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.

The soldier in the video had his head shaved and has a light beard. He was sitting and dressed in a nondescript, gray outfit. Early in the video, one captor held the soldier’s dog tag up to the camera. His name and ID number were clearly visible. He was shown eating at one point and sitting cross-legged.

The soldier gave his name, age and hometown on the video, which was released on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban. He said the date was July 14 and he was captured when he lagged behind on a patrol.

He was interviewed in English by his captors. He was asked his views on the war, which he called extremely hard; his desire to learn more about Islam; and the morale of U.S. soldiers, which he said was low.

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

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

“I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them every day when I’m gone,” he said.

He was 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.”

A U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said the militants were using their captive for propaganda.

“I’m glad to see he appears unharmed. But, again, this is a Taliban propaganda video,” she said. “They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law.”

It is unclear from the video whether the July 14 date is authentic. The soldier says that he heard that a Chinook helicopter carrying 37 NATO troops had been shot down over Helmand. A helicopter was shot down in southern Afghanistan on July 14, 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 July 2, the U.S. military said a U.S. soldier had disappeared after walking off his base in eastern Afghanistan with three Afghan counterparts and was thought to have been taken prisoner.

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.

Afghans in contact with the militants said the soldier was held by a Taliban group led by a commander named Maulvi Sangin, who operates in the area where the American went missing.

They said the fighters initially planned to smuggle the soldier across the border into Pakistan but later reconsidered because of U.S. missile strikes and Pakistani bombing attacks against militant targets in the area. Instead, they decided to move him north into Taliban-controlled areas of Ghazni province.

The Afghans spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of arrest or reprisal. It was impossible to independently confirm their information.

A brigade commander for the Afghan national army in southeastern Afghanistan, Gen. Asrar Ahmad Khan, said Afghan and coalition forces have been working together for 15 days searching for the missing soldier.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militants holding the soldier haven’t yet set any conditions for his release.

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