USA and Taliban part as (future) friends

This is one facet of the American psyche we really admire, the powers that be see everything as a business venture, no emotions need apply. They have on earlier occasions led efforts which have destroyed whole countries (for example, Vietnam) but when they finally did acknowledge defeat and turned back, there has been no long term bitterness. Indeed going by the experience of Vietnam, it would not surprise us if the USA and the Taliban sign up a friendship pact after a gap of say 10-20 years (ditto for Iran).

no mistake: Bergdahl did not “lag behind on a patrol,” as was cited in
news reports at the time. There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was
relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the
outpost on foot. He deserted.

This action of exchanging POWs tells us very clearly (more than anything else) that USA is withdrawing from the world (for the foreseeable future at least). The campaigns which took off have suffered almost as much as the campaigns which did not- Libya is suffering almost as much as Syria. The only bright star in all of this is an independent Kurdistan. Now even the drones have fallen silent as Uncle Sam has decided to go home and leave a mad, mad world behind.

They had young
boys hold him down, boys between the ages of 10 and 15, all of whom
giggled like they were jumping on a trampoline. The prisoner screamed
and pleaded for his life. The captors cut this poor man’s head off.
No human being deserves that
treatment, or to face the threat of that treatment every day for nearly
five years.

So, this man was a deserter and many of his brothers died in trying to rescue him. And now some of the fiercest enemies of America will walk free so that Bergdahl can come home. He in is such a bad physical state that he has forgotten all English. The powerful have no understanding of how much hell war is and what permanent damage it inflicts on the powerless.
It was June 30, 2009, and I was in the city of Sharana, the capitol of
Paktika province in Afghanistan. As I stepped out of a decrepit office
building into a perfect sunny day, a member of my team started talking
into his radio. “Say that again,” he said. “There’s an American soldier

There was. His name was Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, the only prisoner of war in the Afghan theater of operations. His release from Taliban custody on May 31
marks the end of a nearly five-year-old story for the soldiers of his
unit, the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. 

I served in
the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to
retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every
member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not
allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering
him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.

And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.

the night prior to his capture, Bergdahl pulled guard duty at OP Mest, a
small outpost about two hours south of the provincial capitol. The base
resembled a wagon circle of armored vehicles with some razor wire
strung around them. A guard tower sat high up on a nearby hill, but the
outpost itself was no fortress. Besides the tower, the only hard
structure that I saw in July 2009 was a plywood shed filled with bottled
water. Soldiers either slept in poncho tents or inside their vehicles.

The next morning, Bergdahl failed to show for the morning roll call.
The soldiers in 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company discovered his rifle,
helmet, body armor and web gear in a neat stack. He had, however, taken
his compass. His fellow soldiers later mentioned his stated desire to
walk from Afghanistan to India.

The Daily Beast’s Christopher Dickey later wrote
that “[w]hether Bergdahl…just walked away from his base or was lagging
behind on a patrol at the time of his capture remains an open and
fiercely debated question.” Not to me and the members of my unit. Make
no mistake: Bergdahl did not “lag behind on a patrol,” as was cited in
news reports at the time. 

There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was
relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the
outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s
platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve
reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.

deployment was hectic and intense in the initial months, but no one
could have predicted that a soldier would simply wander off. Looking
back on those first 12 weeks, our slice of the war in the vicinity of
Sharana resembles a perfectly still snow-globe—a diorama in miniature of
all the dust-coated outposts, treeless brown mountains and adobe
castles in Paktika province—and between June 25 and June 30, all the
forces of nature conspired to turn it over and shake it. 

On June 25, we suffered our battalion’s first fatality, a platoon leader named First Lieutenant Brian Bradshaw. Five days later, Bergdahl walked away.

His disappearance translated into daily search missions across the
entire Afghanistan theater of operations, particularly ours. The combat
platoons in our battalion spent the next month on daily
helicopter-insertion search missions (called “air assaults”) trying to
scour villages for signs of him. 

Each operations would send multiple
platoons and every enabler available in pursuit: radio intercept teams,
military working dogs, professional anthropologists used as intelligence
gathering teams, Afghan sources in disguise. They would be out for at
least 24 hours. I know of some who were on mission for 10 days at a
stretch. In July, the temperature was well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
each day.

These cobbled-together units’ task was to search villages one after
another. They often took rifle and mortar fire from insurgents, or
perhaps just angry locals. They intermittently received resupply from
soot-coated Mi-17s piloted by Russian contractors, many of whom were
Soviet veterans of Afghanistan. It was hard, dirty and dangerous work. 

The searches enraged the local civilian population and derailed the
counterinsurgency operations taking place at the time. At every juncture
I remember the soldiers involved asking why we were burning so much
gasoline trying to find a guy who had abandoned his unit in the first

The war was already absurd and quixotic, but the hunt for
Bergdahl was even more infuriating because it was all the result of some
kid doing something unnecessary by his own volition.

On July 4, 2009, a human wave of insurgents attacked the joint U.S./Afghan outpost at Zerok.
It was in east Paktika province, the domain of our sister infantry
battalion (3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry). Two Americans died and many
more received wounds. Hundreds of insurgents attacked and were only
repelled by teams of Apache helicopters. 

Zerok was very close to the
Pakistan border, which put it into the same category as outposts now
infamous—places like COP Keating or Wanat, places where insurgents could
mass on the Pakistani side and then try to overwhelm the outnumbered

One of my close friends was the company executive officer for the
unit at Zerok. He is a mild-mannered and generous guy, not the kind of
person prone to fits of pique or rage. But, in his opinion, the attack
would not have happened had his company received its normal complement
of intelligence aircraft: drones, planes, and the like. Instead, every
intelligence aircraft available in theater had received new
instructions: find Bergdahl. …

My friend blames Bergdahl for his soldiers’
deaths. I know that he is not alone, and that this was not the only
instance of it. His soldiers’ names were Private First Class Aaron Fairbairn and Private First Class Justin Casillas.

Though the 2009 Afghan presidential election slowed the search for
Bergdahl, it did not stop it. Our battalion suffered six fatalities in a
three-week period. On August 18, an IED killed Private First Class Morris Walker and Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen
during a reconnaissance mission. 

On August 26, while conducting a
search for a Taliban shadow sub-governor supposedly affiliated with
Bergdahl’s captors, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss
was shot in the face and killed. 

On September 4, during a patrol to a
village near the area in which Bergdahl vanished, an insurgent ambush
killed Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews and gravely wounded Private First Class Matthew Martinek,
who died of his wounds a week later. …

On September 5, while conducting a
foot movement toward a village also thought affiliated with Bergdahl’s
captors, Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey stepped on an improvised land mine. He died the next day.

It is important to name all these names. For the veterans of the
units that lost these men, Bergdahl’s capture and the subsequent hunt
for him will forever tie to their memories, and to a time in their lives
that will define them as people. He has finally returned. Those men
will never have the opportunity.

Bergdahl was not the first American soldier in modern history to walk
away blindly. As I write this in Seoul, 

I’m about 40 miles from where an American sergeant defected to North Korea in 1965.
Charles Robert Jenkins later admitted that he was terrified of being
sent to Vietnam, so he got drunk and wandered off on a patrol. He was
finally released in 2004, after almost 40 hellish years of brutal
internment. The Army court-martialed him, sentencing him to 30 days’
confinement and a dishonorable discharge. He now lives peacefully with
his wife in Japan—they met in captivity in North Korea, where they were
both forced to teach foreign languages to DPRK agents. His desertion
barely warranted a comment, but he was not hailed as a hero. He was met
with sympathy and humanity, and he was allowed to live his life, but he
had to answer for what he did.

believe that Bergdahl also deserves sympathy, but he has much to answer
for, some of which is far more damning than simply having walked off.
Many have suffered because of his actions: his fellow soldiers, their
families, his family, the Afghan military, the unaffiliated Afghan
civilians in Paktika, and none of this suffering was inevitable. None of
it had to happen. 

Therefore, while I’m pleased that he’s safe, I
believe there is an explanation due. Reprimanding him might yield
horrible press for the Army, making our longest war even less popular
than it is today. Retrieving him at least reminds soldiers that we will
never abandon them to their fates, right or wrong. In light of the
propaganda value, I do not expect the Department of Defense to punish

He’s lucky to have survived. I once saw an insurgent
cellphone video of an Afghan National Police enlistee. They had young
boys hold him down, boys between the ages of 10 and 15, all of whom
giggled like they were jumping on a trampoline. The prisoner screamed
and pleaded for his life. The captors cut this poor man’s head off.
That’s what the Taliban and their allies do to their captives who don’t
have the bargaining value of an American soldier. That’s what they do to
their fellow Afghans on a regular basis. No human being deserves that
treatment, or to face the threat of that treatment every day for nearly
five years.

But that certainly doesn’t make Bergdahl a hero, and that doesn’t
mean that the soldiers he left behind have an obligation to forgive him.
I just hope that, with this news, it marks a turning point for the
veterans of that mad rescue attempt. It’s done. Many of the soldiers
from our unit have left the Army, as I have. Many have struggled greatly
with life on the outside, and the implicit threat of prosecution if
they spoke about Bergdahl made it much harder to explain the absurdity
of it all. Our families and friends wanted to understand what we had
experienced, but the Army denied us that. 

I forgave Bergdahl because it was the only way to move on. I wouldn’t
wish his fate on anyone. I hope that, in time, my comrades can make
peace with him, too. That peace will look different for every person. We
may have all come home, but learning to leave the war behind is not a
quick or easy thing. Some will struggle with it for the rest of their
lives. Some will never have the opportunity.

And Bergdahl, all I can say is this: Welcome back. I’m glad it’s
There was a spot reserved for you on the return flight, but we had
to leave without you, man. You’re probably going to have to find your
own way home.



Brown Pundits