Bergdahl freed; Obama trades 5 Gitmo Taliban for Idaho paratrooper

The secretary of defense announced this morning that Army paratrooper Sgt. Bowe S. Bergdahl, the only American held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan was released in exchange for five Taliban fighters detained at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.“A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over,” said Charles T. “Chuck” Hagel, who is the first former enlisted man to lead the Pentagon.

Hagel said he informed Congress of the decision to transfer the Gitmo Five to Qatar from where they will begin their lives.

“Sgt. Bergdahl is now under the care of the U.S. military after being handed over by his captors in Afghanistan,” he said. “We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal, and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.”

Bergdahl, then a private first-class with the “Spartans” of the 25th Infantry Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, disappeared June 30, 2009, while deployed to Paktika Province, Afghanistan.

The paratrooper is a native of Idaho, where he was homeschooled and studied ballet before joining the Army.

Bergdahl in a video released in January by his Taliban captors.
Bergdahl in a video released in January by his Taliban captors.

President Barack Obama issued his own statement from the White House.

“Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years,” the president said.

“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal. Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars,” he said. “Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield. And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue.”

In Feb. 19 post on his website Allen West Republic, former Florida GOP congressman and retired Army lieutenant colonel Allen B. West said he was concerned about the unanswered questions surrounding Bergdahl’s absence from duty.

“Even Bergdahl’s abduction is puzzling. According to the Washington Post, the Army infantryman assigned to a unit from Alaska, was taken captive after walking off his base in the eastern province of Paktika, a decision that confounded his comrades and commanders in Afghanistan,” the colonel wrote.

“I spent two and a half years in Afghanistan and an American Soldier doesn’t just walk off a Forward Operating Base (FOB) or anywhere alone,” he wrote. “It was SOP even in Kabul that you never went anywhere without a battle buddy. Furthermore, leaving the installation required signing out with destination, time of departure and estimated time of return.”

West wrote then that he first wanted to bring Bergdahl home. Then, he wanted the Army to determine if he in fact was a deserter, who merits action through the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

National security analyst Kate Clark for Afghanistan Analysts Network speculated March 9 that Bergdahl would be traded for five detainees: Khairullah Khairkhwa, Fazl Mazlum, Nurullah Nuri, Abdul Haq Wasiq and Abdul Nabi Omari. There are 18 Afghani nationals, still held at Guantanamo, down from a peak of more than 200.

Clark wrote that the White House’s deal to bring Bergdahl home in exchange for five Taliban was scuttled by opposition inside Afghanistan and on Capitol Hill.

But, after the week Obama just had, the timing of the release is as suspect as anything else it does—the perfect subject changer for the Sunday chat shows before the president visits Europe.

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