When Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, 23, walked away from his guard post in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan June 30, 2009, he left behind his rifle, helmet, flak jacket — and a note saying he’d become disillusioned with the Army.
“I am ashamed to be an American,” he wrote in an email. “The horror that is America is disgusting.”
Afghans in Yahya Khel, a village two miles away, said now-Sgt. Bergdahl headed straight for Taliban strongholds or, by some accounts, that he asked their help in contacting the Taliban. Attacks on U.S. forces in Paktika province “seemed to increase in frequency and effectiveness” after Sgt. Bergdahl disappeared, reported Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard.
“The ambushes we use, the certain tactics we use, the Taliban was picking up on those things,” Josh Fuller, who served in Sgt. Bergdahl’s platoon, told Fox News. “You could tell it was from somebody on the inside that had that info.”
The London Sunday Times reported in 2010 that a Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika province said that Sgt. Bergdahl taught him how to turn a mobile phone into a remote control for a roadside bomb.
Many in the intelligence community think Sgt. Bergdahl was an “active collaborator,” reported James Rosen of Fox News.
The swap of Sgt. Bergdahl (he was promoted while in captivity) for five senior Taliban commanders looked bad enough back when National Security Adviser Susan Rice claimed he’d served with distinction and been captured on the battlefield.
Mad Magazine’s parody poster for a movie about “Trading Private Bergdahl” summarizes how most Americans feel about the deal now: “They got five Taliban leaders, we got one deserting weasel.”
The White House had expected “near euphoria” to break out when the deal was announced, said Chuck Todd of NBC News.
It did. This was a “great victory,” said Taliban leader Mullah Omar. The Taliban thinks release of just one of the terrorist leaders “is worth 12,000 fighters,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said he was told by a source in Pakistan.
The swap produced rage among some soldiers who served with Sgt. Bergdahl in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.
“His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours,” said Nathan Bethea, then a lieutenant. Multiple platoons “would be out for at least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a stretch.”
Lt. Darryn Andrews, 34, and Pfc. Michael Martinek, 20, were among at least six soldiers killed during such missions. For saving the lives of three of his troops during an ambush on Sep. 4, 2009, Lt. Andrews was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
Andrews’ parents, Andy and Sondra, said they were told by the Pentagon that their son was hunting a top Taliban commander, but his unit apparently was searching for Sgt. Bergdahl.
Sgt. Bergdahl should be tried for desertion, says a petition circulated by a former squad leader.
“What military people fear is a whitewash that will let him walk with an honorable discharge and full benefits,” said retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters. “That would be an insult to every person who’s ever served honorably in uniform.”
Andy Andrews said soldiers with his son the day he died were ordered to sign non-disclosure agreements. So were many others.
“[The government] lied to us,” Mr. Andrews told the London Daily Mail. “It’s a big cover-up like Benghazi.”
Either Team Obama didn’t know the truth about Sgt. Bergdahl, which would make them grossly negligent, or they did, which would be worse. It’s the VA scandal on steroids.
The swap was timed to knock the VA off the front page, some suspect. The strong disapproval for how the president has handled the VA scandal expressed in a Washington Post poll Tuesday indicates why the White House would be desperate to do this. But it wasn’t smart to divert attention by embroiling the administration in potentially a bigger scandal.
The outpouring of rage from soldiers and their relatives torpedoed Team Obama’s plans to dismiss criticism as partisan sniping by ankle-biting Republicans.
“Meet my husband, injuries directly brought to you by the actions of this traitor,” said Shannon Allen, wife of Master Sgt. Mark Allen, on her Facebook page.
Does the president realize how badly he’s screwed up? If he claims he learned about the prisoner swap from reading the newspaper, we’ll know for sure.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1476).