During the weekend, the only remaining POW in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl of Idaho, marked three years in captivity.
The details of his capture are still a mystery. In a recent Rolling Stone article, the Bergdahl family released previously unseen emails which detailed Bowe’s discontent with his service in Afghanistan. Many of his fellow soldiers told Rolling Stone they believe he was captured because he deserted his post. The White House and Pentagon have both refused to comment on how the Taliban captured Bergdahl and have given few details about how they have worked to return him to his family. The Pentagon has not classified him as a deserter and gave him promotions while in captivity.
Despite the murky details of his capture, Bergdahl has, according to reports, attempted to escape as recently as late last year. The Daily Beast reported on his heroic attempt after years of gaining his captors’ trust:
Bergdahl successfully avoided capture for three days and two nights. The searchers finally found him, weak, exhausted, and nearly naked—he had spent three days without food or water—hiding in a shallow trench he had dug with his own hands and covered with leaves.
Even then, he put up a ferocious fight. The two gunmen who found him first were unable to subdue him. “He fought like a boxer,” [Afghan militant Hafiz] Hanif was told. It took five more militants to overpower him. Now back in custody, he is kept shackled at night, and his jailers are taking no chances.
Soon after publishing this blog post in May about Taliban prisoner exchanges, it became clear Bergdahl was the centerpoint of secret (and stalled) negotiations between the Taliban and the U.S. government. The Bergdahl family released the details of the negotiations in an attempt to pressure the Obama administration into action. Robert Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, has also reached out to insurgents himself and is in “regular e-mail contact with a man he believes is a member of the Taliban with accurate knowledge of his son.” The Bergdahl family have told the media they feel abandoned by the Obama administration and feel the need to try to secure their son’s release themselves.
The piece in Rolling Stone speculated, while naming anonymous sources, that there are elements within the Pentagon who are loathe to exchange prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for a potential deserter. Rolling Stone also speculated that the reluctance to negotiate on the part of the Obama administration is due to their not wanting to be seen negotiating with terrorists during an election year.
Whatever the reason for the breakdown in negotiations, one would hope the Pentagon and Obama administration’s number one priority remains the safety of an American soldier held captive by a terrorist organization as ruthless as the Taliban. During his imprisonment, Bergdahl’s health has visibly deteriorated as demonstrated on videos released by his captors. The anniversary of his capture was marked locally by friends and family in a massive Crossfit workout in honor of the missing soldier but was largely absent from the national consciousness. Going into his fourth year of captivity his family released a statement, which closed with:
We’d also like to ask each of you as individuals and as a nation for your continued awareness as Bowe begins his fourth year as a prisoner. We want this to be the year we see our only son safely returned home.
We owe it to Bergdahl and his family to keep his name in our hearts and minds as we, as a nation, prioritize his release as we would if Bowe were our own son or brother.