May 29, 2012. Boise. With the US federal government’s track record of abandoning America’s soldiers held as POW’s, those who support our troops regardless of politics or policy might want to keep the name Bowe Bergdahl top of mind. Sgt. Bergdahl is America’s only official POW. Captured in Afghanistan by Taliban fighters in 2009, there has been a quiet movement across the US to bring him home. With the war winding down in defeat, many fear Bergdahl will join the thousands of previous American POWs left to the enemy forever, betrayed by their own country.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from an image and video released by the Taliban. Bergdahl is the only current official American POW. His dad is preparing to go to Afghanistan, infiltrate the Taliban, and bring his son home.
The 26 year old Bowe Bergdahl hails from the small, mountain resort town of Hailey, Idaho. With the neighboring Sun Valley Ski resort in the adjacent town, Bergdahl is no stranger to roughing it in a mountainous terrain. Hiking, climbing and surviving outdoors is closer to a sport than a life and death situation in these parts. Bergdahl’s family hopes those rugged experiences growing up in America’s own mountains is helping him survive while being held captive somewhere in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
On June 30, 2009, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. His family, and indeed the entire city of Hailey, Idaho, have pressed for his negotiated release ever since. Now, three years later, Bergdahl’s friends, family and neighbors are sensing their last chance to get him home are slipping away.
Up until now, US authorities insist they did everything in their power to bring the young Bergdahl home. But now, his family believes the US government has all but given up, threatening to add their beloved son to the list of thousands of previous American POWs left in the hands of the enemy to be quickly and conveniently forgotten by his country. Bob and Jani Bergdahl, Bowe’s parents, are determined not to let that happen. In fact, the family and the town of Hailey are stepping up their efforts to win Bowe’s release, with our without the help of the Obama administration.
Bob Bergdahl is hard at work learning to speak Pashto and Urdu. Those are the two main languages spoken in the Afghanistan and Pakistan border region. Most believe Bowe Bergdahl was moved at some point after his capture from Afghanistan into neighboring Pakistan. Bob Bergdahl fully intends to naturally change his appearance and travel to the war-torn Middle East to find his son himself. The thought and vision of that father’s love is enough to put a lump in any dad’s throat.
Since Bowe’s capture, the Taliban has released videos of the American POW. That alone gave the Bergdahl family an overriding sense of hope. ‘He’s still alive’ they knew. The US government and the Bergdahls have even received intelligence reports of Bowe’s attempted escapes. The kid’s tough. The Taliban obviously hasn’t broken him, at least as of the time of the news. But that could change at any time. Bob and Jani Bergdahl have also been kept up to date by some of America’s top Generals. They too, it seems, are taking Bowe Bergdahl’s situation personally.
Recently with the promised winding down of US operations in Afghanistan, Bowe’s supporters in Idaho appeared to have reason to be hopeful. As the Taliban secured its control on much of Afghanistan, while US and allied forces controlled the country’s few major cities, secret and official negotiations began between the US and the Taliban. It seemed both sides were eager for a prisoner exchange.
The deal for exchange
According to reports, the Taliban offered Bowe Bergdahl to US authorities in exchange for 5 Taliban fighters currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While campaigning on a promise to close the secret off-shore military prison, President Obama has not only flip-flopped on his position, but has refused to accept the Taliban’s offer of exchange. In a day when US ally Israel often exchanges 100 or more Palestinian fighters in exchange for just 1 of its own, the Bergdahls and the people of Hailey thought they had reason to hope, reason to believe their son was finally coming home.
But the deal has repeatedly fallen apart. According to Associated Press, sources in both the US government and Afghanistan accuse American negotiators of reneging on their offers and promises. In March of this year, the Taliban finally threw up its hands and walked away from the negotiating table. The Bergdahls, citizens of Hailey and vets and their supporters across the US were devastated by the news and the rapid reversal of events. Now, Bowe Bergdahl’s advocates are taking it upon themselves to gain the captured POWs release, themselves if they have to.
Bergdahl’s family found out this week that they weren’t alone in their efforts on behalf of their captured son. “The whole town has been affected. He's like our kid too,” said one Hailey, Idaho resident this week. According to the same AP report, General Martin Dempsey’s staff has a “collaborative” working relationship with the Bergdahls. In reality, that simply means the family gets an official report from the Pentagon every 3 months about their son. "Our message to them is: We are working hard to obtain Sgt. Bergdahl's release, to bring him back into US hands," a spokesman for the General said.
The US official went on to say, “It's perfectly understandable that parents whose son has been kept in captivity for several years now are frustrated. We certainly understand that. That's why we do everything thing we can to try to keep them updated, to the extent we can."
TIME Magazine isn’t waiting around for the Obama administration either. TIME published a detailed report on Bowe Bergdahl this week in commemoration of Memorial Day. The magazine quotes Bob Bergdahl, Bowe’s father, being concerned that the window of opportunity to get his son back is closing. “If we wait too long, if we politicize this too long in Washington, the opportunity for diplomacy - that window - will close and Afghanistan will be engulfed in civil war again."
While the Obama administration is now accused of putting politics over POWs, Bob Bergdahl fears that window of opportunity, “is not going to await a national election to come to an end. I don't think we can count on the dynamics on the ground in Afghanistan to be the same as they necessarily are now. This is war, and war doesn't wait on politics."
At the annual ‘Rolling Thunder’ Memorial Day motorcycle parade in Washington DC on Sunday, Bob Bergdahl addressed the crowd and talked to reporters. There, the father that had always portrayed the US government as doing all they could, was now letting his frustration and fear show. Bob and Jani Bergdahl led the parade on the 25th anniversary of the event.
“Bowe, your family has not forgotten you. Your hometown has not forgotten you. Your state of Idaho has not forgotten you. And thanks to all of you here today, Washington D.C. has not forgotten you," Bob Bergdahl told the overwhelmingly supportive crowd, “We love you. We are proud of you. Stay strong. Never give up. We pray for the day that we welcome you home."
In an on-sight interview with CNN, the now bearded Bob Bergdahl spoke with an army of passionate and dedicated veterans behind him. The POW’s father said his beard was not only part of his disguise for sneaking into Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan, it is also a timeline of the years his son Bowe has been captive.
While Bob Bergdahl has kept his frustrations to himself up to this point, he recently told his local Idaho paper, “There is a dynamic here that has to change. Everybody is frustrated with how slowly the process has evolved."
According to two US officials speaking off the record to AP, the reason the prisoner exchange fell apart was the White House’s insistence that the 5 Taliban fighters not be released, but instead transferred to a prison setting in a third-party country like Qatar. Taliban officials have rejected that offer. AP now reports that the Obama Administration has attempted to revise their position with one small adjustment. The new US offer of exchange would allow 1 of the 5 Taliban soldiers to be given slightly more freedom, while the other 4 would still be required to be transferred to a prison in a neutral country.
That’s still not enough for the Bergdahls. Bob believes freeing the 5 enemy fighters in exchange for his son would go a long way to ending hostilities in Afghanistan and show at least some good will toward the Afghani people and a Taliban government that is set to take control of the country again the instant US and allied forces leave.
News accounts speculate that the delay in any meaningful action by President Obama is due to election-eve jitters. As Bob Bergdahl has learned the hard way, President Obama’s campaign promise of open dialog and diplomacy with our nation’s current and traditional enemies is one more of a long list of broken promises. “Negotiations seem to be politically incorrect and not allowed,” the POW’s father admitted. So, like any proud American dad, Bob Bergdahl is going to Afghanistan himself to get his son back.
And after this weekend’s Rolling Thunder motorcycle parade, there are over 100,000 bikers and veterans that would love to go with him. If the recent outpouring of support is any indication, they may soon be joined by millions of Americans adding their voice to the chorus – bring Bowe Bergdahl home now!
For more information on the subject of POW/MIA’s, read this weekend’s Whiteout Press Memorial Day special report, ‘Never Forget – the Real Story of America’s abandoned POW/MIAs’.
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