Mon June 9, 2014
Despite Details Of Bergdahl's Captivity, Answers Stay Scattered
Originally published on Mon June 9, 2014 5:42 pm
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. Now to the latest on US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who was released from captivity in Afghanistan. It's possible he could return the United States later this week. Bergdahl is being treated at a military hospital in Germany. And there are new reports about the nearly five years he spent in captivity. He had been captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan after apparently walking off his post. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. And Tom, there have been reports over the weekend about Bergdahl's time in captivity, how the Taliban treated him and also his state of mind now. What have you learned?
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, right. There have been reports he told his doctors he was beaten, that he tried to escape. Now, keep in mind, Audie, this is the Taliban. When they were in power they would beat men for shaving their beards, so such treatment would hardly be a surprise. And remember, he was held by the Haqqani Network - perhaps the most ruthless of all the groups. They're responsible for the suicide bombings in Kabul, and US officers say they're a number one danger to US forces. Now, on the other hand, there were reports from Taliban officials, mind you, that he was treated fairly well. He was given fresh fruit - allowed to exercise. So all the reports are pretty conflicting here. Now, the Pentagon says, listen, we're not going to talk at all about Bergdahl - what he's telling his doctors during this phase of his care. So we're really going to have a sense of what's true until some time passes, and he can be interviewed by investigators and others.
CORNISH: And what other investigations - what other questions are defense department investigators going to be looking at, besides how he was treated?
BOWMAN: Well one big question, of course, are the circumstances of his disappearance - whether he deserted and never planned to come back, or just went AWOL for a short time and then was captured. Another question - what useful intelligence can he provide? He was inside the Haqqani Network for half a decade. He learned the language. So did he pick up anything about operations - their intentions? And where was he moved to? That sort of thing. And that could be helpful to current and future operations.
CORNISH: Tom, this weekend the former top general at central command, which oversaw the war in Afghanistan, said that he felt the US military had to be restrained somewhat when going after the Haqqani Network for fear of reprisal against Bergdahl.
BOWMAN: That's right. I spoke with General Jim Mattis today, and he said this was always in the back of his mind. If we really hit them hard - the Haqqani Network - would they use Bergdahl as a pawn? Would they execute him, let's say, put him on video? Now Mattis says the military has more of a free hand to go after the Haqqani Network.
CORNISH: And there's also this question about whether other soldiers died during the search for Sergeant Bergdahl, and whether trying to find him in the weeks after he disappeared - whether that was part of this as well.
BOWMAN: That's still a nagging question. Some of his platoon that we spoke with say there's a direct link between six soldiers who died and the search for Bergdahl. They say they were on specific missions only to look for Bergdahl. Now, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he's seen no evidence at all of any direct connection that American soldiers died looking for Bergdahl. So I talked to two officers and other units who were there at the time, and they took part in the search for Bergdahl. They said there might not be a direct link, but there is some link between casualties and the search for Bergdahl. One officer told me, for example, that they spent three weeks searching all around the area for him - hitting crossroads and trails, going into dangerous areas. And they were trying to block any chance that Bergdahl would be taken into Pakistan. And he said in those 20 days, two Americans were wounded, four Afghan soldiers were wounded, one Afghan was killed.
CORNISH: And Tom, in the meantime, what happens next for Sergeant Bergdahl?
BOWMAN: Well, the next stop for him is to arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for further treatment. We've been told that he could arrive there later this week, but of course it all depends on his condition.
CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.