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Opinion: Columnists

The Bergdahl deal: Five terrorists for a 'deserter'?

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Politics,Opinion,Larry Elder,Columnists,Afghanistan,National Security,Bowe Bergdahl

The Washington Times reports that the Pentagon pretty much knew the whereabouts of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in recent years. So why didn't they rescue him?

Quoting a former intelligence official, the Times said: "Military commanders were loath to risk their people to save this guy. They were loath to pick him up and, because of that hesitancy, we wind up trading five Taliban guys for him. The mentality was, 'We're not going to lose more of our own guys on this.'"

The Times also quoted an anonymous "high-level congressional aide": "Joint Special Operations Command always had the rescue mission on the table and it was entirely under their ownership, but the big question centered on whether Bergdahl was somebody you risk lives for when you still have time and space to maneuver diplomatically. ... The prisoner swap was being built up as the only option that was available. But there's been knowledge of the general vicinity of where Bergdahl was, down to how many guys were guarding him."

The congressional aide, wrote the Times, also said that military officials in Afghanistan had been pushing for a stronger deal, but they were "superseded" by the State Department and the White House. The intelligence official said "the administration wanted to close the door on this no matter what the price was."

While Bergdahl was in captivity, the military barred soldiers from discussing him, possibly because of the questionable circumstances under which Bergdahl was captured, and also to avoid making him an even bigger ransom tool of political value.

Now that he's been released, members of Bergdahl's unit who have spoken out call him a "deserter."

One posted this comment in the Army Times: "Bergdahl had been acting a little strange, telling people he wanted to 'walk the earth' and kept a little journal talking about how he was meant for better things. No one thought anything about it. He was a little 'out there.' Next morning he's gone. ... He left his weapon, his kit, and other sensitive items. He only took some water, a compass and a knife.

"We find some Afghan kids shortly after who saw an American walking north asking about where the Taliban are. ... We come to realize that (Bergdahl) deserted his post, snuck out of camp and sought out Taliban ... to join them."

He then talks about the soldiers killed or wounded in the search for Bergdahl: "PFC Matthew Michael Martinek, SSG Kurt Robert Curtiss, SSG Clayton Bowen, PFC Morris Walker, SSG Michael Murphy, 2LT Darryn Andrews, were all KIA from our unit who died looking for Bergdahl. ... Fighting increased. IEDs and enemy ambushes increased. The Taliban knew that we were looking for him in high numbers and our movements were predictable. Because of Bergdahl, more men were out in danger, and more attacks on friendly camps and positions were conducted while we were out looking for him."

Another soldier from Bergdahl's battalion, Nathan Bradley Bethea, writes it's "time to speak the truth." In a piece for the Daily Beast in which he, too, calls Bergdahl a "deserter," Bethea says: "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 five terrorists released from Guantanamo in exchange for Bergdahl are said to be "the worst of the worst." They were all high-level Taliban, and included two deputy ministers, two Taliban governors and a head of security -- with at least four involved in heroin trafficking and/or drug wars and/or mass murders.

How does the Bergdahl deal affect our enemies? At the very least, they know we will negotiate with terrorists, despite what we say. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel says, however, that we did not negotiate with terrorists. The country of Qatar negotiated. Cue the laugh track.

As for President Obama's Rose Garden celebration flanked by Bergdahl's parents, he may come to regret it. Many in the military believe that Bergdahl should face military justice, and may even end up getting court-martialed.

Just days before Bergdahl's father tweeted the following message: "I am still working to free all Guantanamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen (sic)!" Of even more interest, however, is a person to whom the tweet was directed. He is Abdulqahar Balkhi, with the radical Muslim website Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan, Voice Of Jihad. The site promotes Shariah law and features body parts of "infidels."

Try pairing Bowe Bergdahl's alleged desertion and his anti-American comments with National Security Adviser Susan Rice's assertion that "he served the United States with honor and distinction."

As a result of this deal, military and civilian personnel posted in dangerous places now have an even bigger price tag on their heads. Nations publicly say they will not negotiate with terrorists. But they do. The question, as always, is whether the benefit outweighs the costs.

This deal stinks.

LARRY ELDER, a Washington Examiner columnist, is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
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