While many Obama administration officials are praising the efforts that led to the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, others believe that the soldier, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, should be charged with desertion.
Bergdahl was handed over to a U.S. Special Operations team this weekend near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. He has been evacuated to a military hospital in Germany to recover, according to the Washington Post.
President Obama said Saturday that the operation was an example of Washington’s “ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home.”
But soldiers who served with Bergdahl are not so sure. Some believe that Bergdahl was captured only because he abandoned his post in Afghanistan and walked off into the wilderness alone on June 30, 2009. Former Army Sgt. Matt Vierkant was in Bergdahl’s platoon and told CNN that the soldier willingly left his post and as many as six soldiers lost their lives in the subsequent search for him.
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"I was p*ssed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on," Vierkant said. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him.”
Other soldiers who served with him said he had grown disillusioned with the war effort and talked of walking off alone into the mountains near his post.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would not directly answer questions Sunday about whether Bergdahl deserted.
"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family," Hagel said. "Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later.”
A senior defense official said Bergdahl will undergo a “reintegration process” in Germany that will include "time for him to tell his story, decompress, and to reconnect with his family through telephone calls and video conferences."
Bergdahl’s former squad leader, Greg Leatherman, said he was glad that the soldier will be returned home but that there should still be an investigation.
"I'm pleased to see him returned safely,” Leatherman said. “From experience I hope that he receives adequate reintegration counseling. I believe that an investigation should take place as soon as healthcare professionals deem him fit to endure one.”
Leatherman confirmed that Bergdahl "always looked at the mountains in the distance and talked of 'seeing what's on the other side.'"
It seems unlikely that there will be an investigation. One anonymous official, when asked if Bergdahl would face any punishment, told reporters that, “five years is enough” — a reference to how long the Army sergeant was a prisoner.