Did Obama reject a military rescue for Bergdahl in favor of an excuse to shut down Gitmo?
posted at 10:01 am on June 5, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
Explosive if true, especially given the White House excuse for violating the law requiring 30 days’ notice before releasing any detainees from Guantanamo, let alone the worst of the non-9/11 bunch. The Obama administration argued that Bergdahl’s health had deteriorated so rapidly that they had no choice but to take this deal. At least one source in the Pentagon tells the Daily Mail that the military actually had several choices for a rescue — but the White House had no interest in them:
The Obama administration passed up multiple opportunities to rescue Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because the president was dead-set on finding a reason to begin emptying Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a Pentagon official.
‘JSOC went to the White House with several specific rescue-op scenarios,’ the official with knowledge of interagency negotiations underway since at least November 2013 told MailOnline, referring to the Joint Special Operations Command. ‘But no one ever got traction.’
‘What we learned along the way was that the president wanted a diplomatic scenario that would establish a precedent for repatriating detainees from Gitmo,’ he said.
The official said a State Department liaison described the lay of the land to him in February, shortly after the Taliban sent the U.S. government a month-old video of Bergdahl in January, looking sickly and haggard, in an effort to create a sense of urgency about his health and effect a quick prisoner trade.
‘He basically told me that no matter what JSOC put on the table, it was never going to fly because the president isn’t going to leave office with Gitmo intact, and this was the best opportunity to see that through.’
This has yet to be substantiated, but given the leaks to The Daily Beast and Time Magazine about “forcing the consensus,” it certainly fits the pattern. In the latter, senior officials at the Pentagon told Time that “there was no conversation” in the end about options, and pressure brought to bear on the military to “suck it up and salute” rather than try to keep the conversation open. Both pieces made it clear that political benefits for the White House outweighed strategic or tactical considerations in the war when it came to the Bergdahl swap. This just makes it even more plain that the White House was determined to “force the consensus” to its liking.
But if Bergdahl’s health was the motivating factor, wouldn’t a rescue make more sense? It would — as long as it was feasible, not excessively provocative, and wouldn’t create so many American casualties as to negate the value of Bergdahl’s retrieval. The Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier provided a splash of cold water on the military-rescue options yesterday, reporting that it was the Pentagon that ultimately passed on the rescue:
The Pentagon rejected the idea of a rescue mission for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl because he was being moved so often by his Taliban captors that U.S. special operators would have had to hit up to a dozen possible hideouts inside Pakistan at once in order to have a chance at rescuing him.
That’s according to U.S. officials, who also say the Obama administration also did not want to risk the political fallout in Pakistan from another unilateral U.S. raid, like the Navy SEAL raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.
Bergdahl had also twice tried to escape, so the militants guarding him had stepped up their numbers, further complicating any potential rescue attempt.
“A rescue mission would have been fraught politically as well as tactically,” according to a senior defense official briefed on the Bergdahl case.
That situation grew more difficult in 2014, not less so. After the two escape attempts, Bergdahl’s captors were moving him so frequently that the Pentagon had little hard evidence of where he was. Dozier’s source reports that they would have had to hit perhaps a dozen locations simultaneously in order to find it, all of them in Pakistan, which would have had repercussions with the Pakistani government in Islamabad that was still angry over the Osama bin Laden raid. The odds of success would probably be low, and the odds of something going wrong and losing men in order to bring back a suspected deserter would likely have pushed the idea well past the “not worth it” threshold, if Dozier’s source is correct.
Even so, the Pentagon would still have been drafting and war-gaming rescue options right up until Bergdahl’s release. Without a doubt, the DoD would have been sharing those options with the White House. Whether they were realistic, and what the motivations were for declining them, will be debated for a very long time.