Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s capture remains a mystery

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

The United States has obtained recent footage of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, suggesting that the American soldier is still alive after four years in captivity, according to CNN. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan’s Paktika province in 2009, and he is the only American being held prisoner in the Afghan conflict. He is believed to be somewhere in Pakistan.

CNN, citing an anonymous source in the military, reported that the “proof-of-life” video showed Bergdahl in declining health, and includes talk about events that occurred last month.

The Pentagon issued a brief statement through a spokeswoman in response to the report. “We cannot discuss all the details of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that on a daily basis — using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools — we try to see Sergeant Bergdahl returned home safely,” Cmdr. Elissa Smith said.

The New York Times noted that the video “was not a propaganda release to local or foreign journalists, a communications technique used by insurgent groups in the past, making it likely that the military had seized the video in an operation of some type.” The Associated Press reported that the footage “came to light several days ago.” Both news organizations cited anonymous sources in the military.

Bergdahl had an unusual childhood and youth before his capture at the age of 23. He grew up in the small town of Hailey, Idaho, as Alexi Mostrous reported shortly after his capture:

Bergdahl, who was educated at home, also has been, in turns, a ballet dancer, a fencer and a voracious reader. Friends say he always wanted to be “part of that warrior world,” participating in reenactments of Renaissance sword-fights, being fascinated by weaponry, studying martial arts and working at the Sun Valley Gun Club.

Walt Femling, a family friend and the sheriff of Blaine County, said Bergdahl loved to hear about a trip Femling had taken to Alaska as a young man. “I had gone up there at exactly his age, and he was interested to know what it was like,” said Femling, who owns an apartment that Bergdahl rented. “What jobs you could get up there. Logging, fishing. He was an adventurer, I suppose. Always wanted to try new things.”

Before enlisting in June last year, Bergdahl had succumbed to “valley fever,” what the young locals call the desire to leave Idaho and explore. Bergdahl sailed around the Caribbean, worked on an Alaskan trawler and traveled across Europe. He once rode his bicycle from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, Calif.

He even considered joining the French Foreign Legion, friends said. “He really wanted to travel the world,” Clayton said.

“He’s a strong presence, very interesting, very diverse,” said Sue Martin, the owner of the coffee shop Zaney’s, where Bergdahl worked for about two years. “He did take a lot of pressure for being a young man in ballet. . . . Everybody was joking with him continually about it, until the picture came out in the local paper and he was surrounded by beautiful young women, and then it became clear why Bowe went to every practice.” He was the prince when the Sun Valley Ballet School put on “The Little Mermaid.”

Bergdahl’s capture is particularly poignant for Martin, whose son, Zane, died in a motorcycle accident six months before Bergdahl started at her shop. “I was suddenly aware that Bowe was there helping me,” she said. “He shoveled pathways or swept snow off my car. That’s something my son would do. It wasn’t spoken, but I appreciated it.”

A handwritten note on a yellow sheet of paper in Zaney’s bore testimony to Bergdahl’s passion for sword-fighting and medieval reenactments. “Dear Bowe, always a knight searching for what is good and true and right in the world,” the note reads. “May your sword be sharp and strong to overpower fear.”

The Washington Post

How exactly Bergdahl was captured isn’t clear. Military officials said at the time that he simply left his base with several Afghans, which would have been a very rare breach of protocol for a soldier.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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