The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The timeline you need to understand the Bowe Bergdahl story

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's return to the United States after five years as a POW in Afghanistan has left many people asking questions about the deliberations that led the Taliban to hand him over to the United States military, as well as the reasons the Taliban intercepted him in the first place. There are also questions to ask about the political response -- why are legislators who were recently calling for Bergdahl's release at any cost now condemning the White House's actions?

Here's a brief timeline of the political context that helps ground -- if not answer -- all these questions.

Feb. 17, 2009: Newly inaugurated President Obama approves a troop surge in Afghanistan.

June 30, 2009: The Taliban captures Bergdahl after he leaves his post.

July 18, 2009: The Taliban releases a video of Bergdahl. The captured soldier says in the video: "Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country."

Dec. 1, 2009: Obama announces a troop surge three times bigger than the one approved the previous February. The president also says that troops would start coming home 18 months later.

Dec. 25, 2009: Another Taliban video of Bergdahl is released. In the video, he says, "This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense."

April 7, 2010: Another video of Bergdahl is released.

2010: A Pentagon investigation determines that Bergdahl walked away from his unit, according to Associated Press reporting, which led the military to downgrade their search efforts, leaving the executive branch to lead the efforts going forward.

May 2, 2011: U.S. special forces kill Osama bin Laden. U.S. officials reignite discussions on how to bring back Bergdahl.

June 7, 2012: Rolling Stone publishes a story about Bowe Bergdahl. Reporter Michael Hastings writes:

As with everything in Washington these days, the sharp political discord has complicated efforts to secure his release.
"The Hill is giving State and the White House sh**," says one senior administration source. "The political consequences­ are being used as leverage in the policy debate." According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president's opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. "They keep telling me it's going to be Obama's Willie Horton moment," Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president's political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-­like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign. In response, a White House official advised Grossman that he should ignore the politics of the swap and concentrate solely on the policy.
"Frankly, we don't give a sh** why he left," says one White House official. "He's an American soldier. We want to bring him home."

June 16, 2011: The Army promotes Bergdahl to sergeant. It is his second promotion since being captured.

June 27, 2012: The conservative media Web site Human Events publishes a story on Bergdahl. "Notably absent from the discussion has been any commitment from President Obama that the country will not leave its own behind." On Thursday, one of the Web site's several stories on Bergdahl argued that the exchange "is an argument for removing Barack Obama from the Oval Office immediately – I mean, before sunset today – because he’s the biggest walking, talking national security risk America has ever seen."

Sept. 6, 2012: The Obama administration decides to label the Haqqani network -- which held Bergdahl captive -- as a terrorist organization.

January 2014: A new video of Bergdahl in captivity is received by the U.S. government. He looks to be in poor health.

Jan. 4, 2014: Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) sends a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that notes: "This June will mark five years since Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban. After so long in captivity, DoD must redouble its efforts to find Sergeant Bergdahl and return him safely to his family." Another news release from May 22 made the same requests. Ayotte also added language to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act asking the Department of Defense to update Congress on search efforts by Sept. 30.

Ayotte has been critical of the swap since May 31. Her spokesperson told the Huffington Post, "Senator Ayotte has led efforts in Congress to prevent the release of high risk detainees from Guantanamo, and she never would have supported trading five dangerous terrorists who are likely to reengage in terrorist activities against Americans and our allies."

Feb. 6, 2014: Support for the war in Afghanistan continues to dip.

Feb. 18, 2014: Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) tells CNN that securing Bergdahl's release is "the highest priority that I have in my office."

When Bergdahl was released, Crapo released a statement that said: "We celebrate with Bowe, Bob and Jani Bergdahl today as this wonderful news brings an end to their five-year ordeal. Our prayers have been answered and we offer our thanks for the perseverance of the family and the many Idahoans who have kept this vigil.  We appreciate the men and women who made this release possible."

Five days later, he expressed doubts about the exchange. Crapo told a local news outlet: "I believe that is a problem … that could potentially result in a problem for our national security."

Feb. 23, 2014: The Taliban says it is suspending talks concerning Bergdahl's release. CNN reports:

One possible obstacle to securing Bergdahl's release is what may be asked in return. The Taliban have long demanded the release of five detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but another U.S. official said that releasing them would be difficult because Congress would have to be notified in advance, and lawmakers have previously resisted releasing them. Van Hipp, who served as a deputy assistant Army secretary under former President George H.W. Bush, said that trading Guantanamo inmates for Bergdahl would put at risk "every American soldier deployed all over the world." "We are sending the message to terrorist organizations all over the world that it's OK to capture an American soldier, that America will deal with you," said Hipp, now a defense consultant in Washington.

March 3, 2014: Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) tells Military Times in an article questioning whether Bergdahl deserted the military: “It’s hard to imagine any circumstance where his captivity won’t be viewed as time served. The first order of business is securing his release and I don’t think it does an ounce of good to begin contemplating that far ahead when the focus is on getting him home.”

Now that the release has happened, Hunter has changed his mind. He told Fox News on June 4: “As John Kerry threw his medals over the White House fence and turned his back on all of his Vietnam brothers and sisters, that’s what Bergdahl did. Bergdahl walked away from his men and he left them in a bad spot. People lost their lives or got hurt trying to find him.”

March 8, 2014: The Ohio state legislature passes a resolution urging the Department of Defense to do everything in its power to rescue Bergdahl. The state representative who sponsored the resolution, Terry Johnson, said: "A lot of people don't even know we have a POW right now. I sponsored this resolution to raise awareness and to show his family that he is not forgotten -- that we in Ohio are with them. We need to do everything we can to get this young man home to his family."

March 13, 2014: General Joseph Dunford,  commander of International Security and Assistance Force, tells the House Armed Services Committee: "We have a detailed plan. I wouldn't want to talk about it here, but we have a detailed plan that addresses everything from Bo Bergdahl's recovery to the medical support he may need and the onward movement back to the United States in event -- in event that we are able to get Bo Bergdahl back. And so we're prepared and wouldn't waste a nanosecond were we to get an opportunity to return him to his parents."

April 24, 2014: One of Rep. Mike Simpson's (R-Idaho) local campaign chairs resigns, saying the congressman hasn't done enough to bring back Bergdahl. His spokesperson responded, "Bringing Bowe Bergdahl home safely has always been a priority for Mike Simpson." When the news of Bergdahl's release was announced, Simpson released a statement that noted, "We are all grateful for the tireless efforts of innumerable people within the Department of Defense and Department of State in securing Bowe's release and for the work of those who have been seeking Bowe's safe return for years."

Simpson has been quiet on the issue since.

May 31, 2014: The U.S. government agrees to exchange five Taliban commanders for Bergdahl. It had been five years since he was captured. The soldier is taken to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

June 1, 2014: National Security Adviser Susan Rice goes on ABC News's Sunday show to discuss Bergdahl. She is asked about the circumstances that brought him home. "This is a very special situation," she responded. "Sergeant Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield. We have a sacred obligation that we have upheld since the founding of our Republic to do our utmost to bring back our men and women who were taken in battle. And we did that in this instance."

June 3, 2014: Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, says of Bergdahl: "Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty." Added Dempsey: "Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family."

June 3, 2014: Obama gives a news conference in Poland, where he defends the White House's actions. Regardless of the reasons for a POW's capture, “we still get back an American soldier if he’s held in captivity. Period. Full stop.”

June 3, 2014: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a former POW  himself, says in a news conference, “This decision to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home — and we applaud that he is home — is ill-founded … it is a mistake, and it is putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk. And that to me is unacceptable.” (On Feb. 18, 2014, when asked about the possibility of an exchange on CNN, McCain responded: "I would support. Obviously I'd have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home, and if exchange was one of them I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider.")

McCain's spokesperson defended the senator's remarks  Thursday to Politico. If CNN had asked "if Senator McCain would support a deal that freed five hard-core Taliban leaders," he said, "two of whom are wanted by the U.N. for war crimes for slaughtering thousands of Shiite Muslims, under terms that allowed them to potentially return to the battlefield against America in a year, the answer would have been ‘Hell no.' The Obama administration is obviously having a difficult time defending this deal, and is desperate to discredit its critics on both sides of the aisle.”

June 4, 2014: The Taliban releases a video showing the prisoner exchange.

June 4, 2014: Conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer tells Fox News: “Had the choice been mine I would have made the same choice. It’s a difficult decision, and I would not attack those who have done otherwise.”

June 4, 2014: The media notices that several legislators -- mostly Republicans facing important elections this year -- have been deleting their tweets expressing positive thoughts upon the announcement that Bergdahl was returning.

June 4, 2014: Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) says that Republicans might start thinking about impeachment if more prisoners are released from Guantanamo.

June 4, 2014: Senators meet with Obama officials in a classified briefing, where they are shown the video that helped spur the White House to accept the Taliban's deal. Looking at Bergdahl's state, many saw why the White House decided to act. Others were still skeptical about the steps that brought Bergdahl home.

June 4, 2014: Bergdahl's home town in Idaho decides to cancel their homecoming event scheduled for June 28. With the added interest -- and possibility of protests -- the organizers though they would be way over capacity.

June 5, 2014: A Taliban commander tells Time Magazine: “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people. It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”

June 5, 2014: Obama defends the exchange again, this time in Brussels. "We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about, and we saw that we had an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that."

June 5, 2014: Much of the criticism -- especially from the Democratic Party -- surrounding Bergdahl's return has to do with the fact that Obama did not inform Congress of the action 30 days in advance, as the law dictates. The president issued a signing statement explaining his decision; Bergdahl's health, he said, forced them to move quickly.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said  Wednesday: "I strongly believe that we should have been consulted, that the law should have been followed. And I very much regret that that was not the case." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said: “This is making a big deal over nothing. The whole deal, is it Friday or Saturday? What difference does it make? What difference does it make?” Reid received an advance call of the exchange last Friday. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell received a call  Saturday.

June 11, 2014: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been invited to testify in front of the House Armed Services Committee on Bergdahl.