As a part of the long running peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States government, the only American POW held by enemy forces in Afghanistan was released on May 31st. The handover was carefully orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency, with operators from an Army Special Operations unit providing the boots on the ground to secure the Taliban’s prisoner: Bowe Bergdahl. The men of JSOC had eyes on Bergdahl for over three months, but were waiting for the situation to fully develop. For various reasons, it appears that for Bergdahl to be released, everything needed to line up diplomatically rather than tactically.
The release of five high level Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo has been considered by many Americans to be too high a price to pay for the safe return of one low-ranking American soldier. However, it must be remembered that Bergdahl was at this point a pawn in the game. Who he was or was not had been rendered irrelevant, now he was a political bargaining chip in negotiations which are to pave the way for a face saving US withdrawal from Afghanistan. In short, getting Bergdahl back wasn’t about Bergdahl, but rather about the future of every other service man and woman in Afghanistan.
Now that he is back in American hands, it seems safe to say that he will be thoroughly debriefed. Many have called Bergdahl’s motivations and loyalties into question, especially in regards to how he disappeared from his post in Afghanistan and was eventually captured by the enemy. Suffice to say that Bowe Bergdahl probably will not be shaking President Obama’s hand anytime soon, much less be allowed near any other important figure as long as the Secret Service has a say in the matter.
What was running through Bergdahl’s mind in the months and days leading up to his disappearance is impossible for us to say, but simply by talking to former soldiers who served with him, many puzzling questions come to the forefront. SOFREP recently spoke with the medic who served in Bergdahl’s platoon to gain further insight in what really happened in OP Mest on June 30, 2009 when Bergdahl went missing.
Joshua Cornelison was the platoon medic in 2nd Platoon, Blackfoot Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. Their OP (Observation Point) in Paktika province was a small outpost manned by thirty soldiers from 2nd platoon, more like a Vietnam-era firebase out in the middle of nowhere and a whole lot less like that mega-FOBs found in Bagram and Baghdad.
Cornelison described Bergdahl as being “super quiet,” the type of guy who really kept to himself and didn’t interact with the other guys in the platoon. Bergdahl liked to read and write and always carried a notebook around with him, in which he would scribble during the day. However, Cornelison said he saw no warning signs that Bergdahl was going to desert his post. He did mail some of his things home, but so did the other soldiers, such as books they finished reading or other odds and ends that they no longer needed to lug around Afghanistan.
Rollcall and 100% accountability of men, weapons, and equipment was conducted each day on OP Mest at 2200 and 0600. By 0600 on June 30, Bergdahl was discovered to be missing and his teammates knew that something was seriously wrong. Bergdahl’s weapon and combat equipment were in his hootch, but a few other possessions were missing.
Within hours, 2nd Platoon kicked out a 12-man patrol to scout around the wire of their compound and try to locate Bergdahl. Cornelison was on that patrol, and eventually they walked up to a school house at the closest village. After asking around for about 30 minutes, one of the school boys confirmed that he had seen a lone American crawling through the weeds on his way to school. He pointed in the direction that Bergdahl had been traveling and the patrol immediately attempted to follow up on the new lead. They looked for breadcrumbs, such as a piece of uniform or gear that would give some indication that Bergdahl wanted to be found, but there was nothing there. As night closed in, the patrol had to return to base.
Now the call went up to higher that Bergdahl was truly missing, and the US military began pushing all assets available to Paktika to find him. Cornelison’s unit spent 90 days out looking for Bergdahl, chasing after every intel lead, doing dismounted patrols, air assaulting in and out of suspect areas, and doing everything in their power to find him with little sleep and not much to eat but MREs. In the end, 2nd Platoon came away frustrated and exhausted. Six members of Bergdahl’s battalion were killed in the process of trying to find him. To say that Bergdahl’s teammates held some animosity towards him is an understatement.
What Cornelison was unaware of when SOFREP spoke with him was that the numbers of American troops killed or wounded looking for Bergdahl is actually quite a bit higher. The 75th Ranger Regiment aggressively conducted operations attempting to recover Bergdahl in the five years since he went missing. Those missions were unsuccessful and resulted in some heavy casualties along the way.
The circumstances around Bergdahl’s disappearance from OP Mest remain clouded in mystery. While SOFREP does not use anonymous Twitter accounts as sources, Cornelison was able to provide a full name and verify the authenticity and credibility of another former member of his platoon who goes by @CodyFNFootball on Twitter. Cody was in the same squad as Bergdahl and laid out a very disturbing picture of how he went missing on his Twitter feed in the hours after it was announced that Bergdahl had been rescued.
Like Cornelison, Cody also says that Bergdahl was a an odd soldier who didn’t like to socialize with his teammates. Prior to deployment, he writes that, “normally before war 20 something drink beer, BBQ, hangout with platoon/squad mates on free time, could be your last days you never know…B[ergdahl] would always stay inside on his bunk reading Rosetta Stone in the 3 languages where we were deploying in Afghan.” Cody continues by writing that Bergdahl bought an AK-47, the weapon of the Taliban rather than the US Army, to learn how to fire it before they deployed.
Cody also points out that Bergdahl never wore deodorant, rarely showered, did not own a phone, and was known to fabricate fantastic stories about joining the French Foreign Legion (in reality the Legion rejected him) and about beating up drug dealers. He recalls that Bergdahl asked other teammates what would happen if sensitive items assigned to him went missing, like weapons and night vision devices.
Both Cody and Cornelison point out that Bergdahl used his detailed knowledge of the local terrain from spending six weeks at OP Mest and his insider knowledge of his platoon’s guard rotation schedule to carefully plan the moment when he would desert his unit and run into the Afghan countryside. At this point, we have to confront the very real possibility that Bergdahl deserted his unit completely of his own volition, that it was pre-meditated, and that he may have been attempting to defect to the Taliban.
What Bergdahl’s motivations were is something for Army investigators and possibly the military judicial system to determine, but these are questions which must be asked. Cornelison reiterated that soldiers from his battalion were killed in the search for Bowe Bergdahl and that it is now time for Bergdahl to “be held accountable for his actions.”