The debate continues over the value of the trade executed to return US soldier Bowe Bergdahl from captivity, especially focusing on the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture. The chair of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, issued a statement today that the Army would indeed investigate those circumstances and the allegations of desertion in due course. Dempsey argued, though, that this question is and should be separate from the duty of the US to get him back from his captors:
The Army will investigate charges that rescued Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl deserted his post in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said Tuesday.
“When he is able to provide them, we’ll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty,” Dempsey said in a post to his Facebook page. “Our Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.” …
But Dempsey and other administration officials have looked to separate the rescue effort from questions over Bergdahl’s conduct.
“In response to those of you interested in my personal judgments about the recovery of SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the questions about this particular soldier’s conduct are separate from our effort to recover ANY U.S. service member in enemy captivity,” Dempsey said. “This was likely the last, best opportunity to free him.”
The Hill also notes that the Pentagon concluded that Bergdahl had deserted as far back as 2010:
A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Bergdahl had walked away from his unit before being captured by the Taliban, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. And according to The New York Times, Bergdahl left a note in his tent saying he was disillusioned with the U.S. Army and did not support the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
According to the Washington Times and The Blaze, the Army nixed any special operations to retrieve Bergdahl after this conclusion, choosing not to risk the lives of other soldiers in a rescue attempt for a deserter:
Commanders on the ground debated whether to pull the trigger on a rescue several times in recent years, according to one of the sources, a former high-level intelligence official in Afghanistan, who said the conclusion each time was that the prospect of losing highly trained troops was too high a price to pay for rescuing a soldier who walked away from his unit before being captured by the enemy.
A second source told The Washington Times that the rescue operation plans were “high risk” and became even less attractive in recent months when officials in the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command grew convinced that the Taliban and the militant Haqqani network, whose operatives were holding Sgt. Bergdahl, were eager to cut a deal for his release.
“Joint Special Operations Command always had the rescue mission on the table and it was entirely under their ownership, but the big question centered on whether Bergdahl was somebody you risk lives for when you still have time and space to maneuver diplomatically,” said the source, a high-level congressional aide, who, like the former intelligence official, spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
The aide also said there was frustration among some on Capitol Hill that the Obama administration had botched an opportunity to exert leverage over the Taliban, particularly since the U.S. military could have used force to secure Sgt. Bergdahl’s release.
The focus on Bergdahl will probably ease over the next few days, as the bigger issues in the swap are the Obama administration’s lack of compliance with the law and the danger presented by the five Taliban leaders sprung from GITMO. Some of the focus has been on Robert Bergdahl, the father who “immersed himself in Taliban culture,” NBC reported on Today, and who at times seemed to be regurgitating Taliban propaganda on Twitter. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho hopes people will back off for a while now and let residents relax a bit now that the ordeal seems to be over, but questions will persist about the Bergdahls — even if they don’t do so at the top of the headlines: