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Taliban releases video of prisoner Bowe Bergdahl

By Reuters
Saturday, December 26, 2009; A16

KABUL -- The Taliban on Friday issued a video of a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan this summer. The U.S. military condemned the tape as propaganda and said the decision to release it on Christmas was cruel.

Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl appears in the video wearing sunglasses and a U.S. military-style uniform, including a military helmet. He gives his name, home town and other personal details before saying he is a prisoner of war of the Taliban. It is not clear when the video was made.

He goes on to attack U.S. leaders for their treatment of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and warns that the U.S. military is no match for the Taliban.

"I'm afraid to tell you that this war has slipped from our fingers, and it's just going to be our next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he says.

A military spokesman said the statements should be considered coerced.

"This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement. It reflects nothing more than the violent, deceitful tactics of the Taliban insurgency," said U.S. Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of communication for NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

"To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam. We will continue our search for Bowe Bergdahl," Smith said in a written statement.

In the video, Bergdahl tells fellow soldiers they are facing a well-organized and patient enemy -- perhaps a reference to a statement made by the White House last month saying the United States would not be in Afghanistan in nine years' time.

"To all you soldiers out there who are getting ready to come over here for the first time because of the stupidity of our country and leaders . . . you are fighting very smart people who know exactly how to kill us and are extremely patient."

A spokesman for the Taliban also urged the U.S. government in the video to make a prisoner- swap deal for Bergdahl.

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has demanded and still demands release of a limited number of prisoners in exchange for this American prisoner, Bowe Robert Bergdahl," said the spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.

The soldier, who was 23 when he was captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June, is in good health, Mujahid said.

The man in the video looked healthy and said he had been well treated, contrasting his fate to that of prisoners held in U.S. military prisons.

"I bear witness I was continuously treated as a human being, with dignity, and I had nobody deprive me of my clothes and take pictures of me naked. I had no dogs barking at me or biting me, as my country has done to their Muslim prisoners in the jails that I have mentioned," the man said.

In July, Bergdahl appeared in a video urging the U.S. government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. The Pentagon denounced it as Taliban propaganda that violated international law.

The capture and detention of the soldier comes amid the bloodiest period in Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.

To quell the mounting violence, Washington has begun the gradual dispatch of about 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, before starting to pull them out in July 2011.

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