Top Pentagon officials disputed Tuesday that Army commanders have decided to charge a U.S. soldier who went missing in Afghanistan in 2009 with desertion, saying that while an Army investigation is complete, no decisions have been made on what to do.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was recovered by U.S. Special Forces in May 2014 in a swap for five Taliban officials held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bergdahl is believed to have left his platoon’s small outpost in Paktika province on June 30, 2009, after growing disillusioned with the U.S. military’s campaign there, and he was captured shortly afterward by enemy forces. He was held captive in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an insurgent group allied with the Taliban, until a deal brokered through the government of Qatar was reached last year.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, and Maj. Gen. Ronald F. Lewis, the chief of Army public affairs, both denied that a decision has been reached by the Army. The case is currently under review by Gen. Mark A. Milley, the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“Let me just put a fork in this right now, if I can,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. “No decision has been made with respect to the case of Sergeant Bergdahl. None. And General Milley is not being put under any pressure to make a decision, either way.”
The questions came after media reports suggested otherwise. Fox News reported Monday night that Bergdahl would face desertion charges. NBC News did the same Tuesday morning, citing senior military officials.
Lewis released a statement directly disputing those reports, saying they were “patently false.” No actions or decisions on the Bergdahl decision have been made, he said.
“The investigation is still with the Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces Command who will determine appropriate action which ranges from no further action to convening a court martial,” Lewis said. “We understand the public interest in this case and once a decision has been made, the Army will be open and transparent in this matter.”
A new investigation was launched into Bergdahl’s disappearance and capture in June, after a slew of accusations from his fellow soldiers that he walked away from his unit in a war zone and questions about whether the Obama administration handled the prisoner swap legally. The case has become politically sensitive, with critics saying a decision has been slow-rolled because the circumstances of the case could embarrass the White House.
In August, Army officials said the Bergdahl investigation was in its final stages, but added that a draft report prepared by the investigating officer, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, would undergo a legal review before being presented to top Army officials. Kirby said in November that the investigation was complete and under review.
The Pentagon press secretary declined Tuesday to put a time table on when the decision could be announced, but acknowledged Bergdahl could face jail time.
We have a process. We need to let that work its way through,” Kirby said. “And right now, where we are in the process is the general court-martial convening authority is reviewing the investigation, and then he will have to, when he’s done with that, make certain recommendations about disposition of the case.”
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