Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Curious Case of Bowe Bergdahl

It was interesting to read this 2012 account of Bowe Bergdahl reprinted in the Rolling Stone, as it paints a very murky portrait of the American soldier who was captured by the Taliban in 2009, apparently after he chose to desert his post in the infamous Paktika province of Afghanistan.

Bowe wasn't your conventional soldier, according to Michael Hastings.  He was raised in a Calvinist household in Idaho, and originally sought to be a member of the French Foreign Legion to fight in Africa.  However, at age 23 he decided to join the Army with the expressed purpose of being involved in rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan, only to find himself part of the counterinsurgency efforts, or so-called "Surge" in 2009 that was meant to turn the tide in the 7-year war.

Apparently, he was assigned to a motley unit that went through a leadership crisis resulting in major discipline problems that left Bowe with no choice but to walk out.  An effort was made to retrieve him, but the Taliban got to him first, resulting in an internment that would stretch for 5 years.

Because of the effort to broker some kind of peace agreement with the Taliban, the Bergdahl case was kept under wraps for 3 years until Hastings broke the story in 2012.  The US government was involved in major negotiations that they hoped would lead to the release of the soldier, the sole remaining POW in Afghanistan.  Of course, there were members of the Senate who were strongly opposed to any kind of trade with the Taliban, but such swaps had been done before.  However, 2012 was an election year and the Republican senators were against any deal.

Of course, it might not have cast a favorable light on the Obama administration as Bowe had a very dubious track record, which political opponents could have very easily exploited as they are doing now.  Bergdahl's desertion added to the crisis within his unit, and apparently soldiers were lost in subsequent rescue attempts that  further disgraced his military record.  But, all this had been brushed aside as the young enlisted man was promoted just the same as if he was on active duty.

The young sergeant was no war hero, unlike Pat Tillman, who personified the image of the selfless American turning his back on a multi-million professional football contract to serve in the military.  Tillman was used as a political prop back in 2004, when he was killed in Afghanistan. The investigation into his death wasn't completed until 2007, when it was ruled he died as the result of "friendly fire."

Bergdahl, however, appears to have suffered tremendously for his act of defiance, leading many to feel that the Army will not pursue a court martial which could result in 5 years in prison.  But, one wonders what was on this kid's mind to wander off into the mountains like that.  As Hastings noted, it was all enemy territory and there was little chance he would get out of Afghanistan on his own.

Maybe he didn't plan to get out alive.  Bowe just didn't bargain on a 5-year extended stay.  He apparently tried to escape once only to find himself locked in chains afterward.  The Taliban was desperate to have a bargaining chip knowing the US planned to withdraw from Afghanistan.  He was worth more alive than dead.

Bergdahl was apparently kept close to top Taliban leaders, which makes you wonder if we just might have a real-life "Nicholas Brody" on our hands.  By Hastings' account, Bowe was a very disillusioned soldier who had some pretty serious misgivings about the US role in Afghanistan, which he wrote in his letters home.  This would have made him prime fodder for Taliban indoctrination.  I suppose we will get a better picture once information is released from the debriefing taking place in Germany, although it is doubtful the military will release very much in this regard.

It is hard to say what all has been agreed to in these peace talks, but Chuck Hagel seems to think this was an important breakthrough.  What is odd is that after nearly 12 years of fighting, including a very costly Surge begun in 2009, here we are trying to reach some kind of accord with the Taliban in an effort to bring stability to Afghanistan.

Why couldn't we have done that back in 2001 when One-eyed Omar was the leader of the country and apparently was willing to bargain with the US for the the release of Osama bin Laden?  Mullah Omar is still the spiritual leader of the Taliban.  All our best efforts failed to root him out of Afghanistan or Pakistan.  It would seem that this war is the proverbial snake that has circled around to eat its tail.

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