Why are administration allies calling Bergdahl's comrades liars?
The pushback by administration allies against the contention by members of Bowe Bergdahl's company that 6 of their number died looking for him is not surprising. What is raising a few eyebrows is their insistence that the men who kept looking for him on every mission they undertook are exaggerating when they blame Bergdahl for the deaths.
he frantic search for Bowe Bergdahl began the moment his comrades discovered he was no longer inside the fragile outpost in a rock-strewn valley in one of the most hostile corners of Afghanistan.
Exactly why Bergdahl left is subject to intense scrutiny. But accounts by two Taliban sources as well as several U.S. officials and fellow soldiers raise doubt over media reports that he had sought to join the Taliban, and over suggestions that the deaths later that year of six soldiers in his battalion were related to the search for him.
His dramatic release on May 31 after five years in captivity in return for five Taliban commanders sparked a national controversy over whether President Barack Obama paid too high a price for his freedom. That was fueled by allegations by some in his battalion that he was a deserter, and that soldiers died because they were looking for him after his disappearance in the early hours of June 30, 2009.
While many questions remain, a Reuters reconstruction of his disappearance indicates that at the time when Bergdahl’s six comrades in the 1st Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment were killed in August and September 2009, his fallen comrades were on other missions like securing the Afghan elections and, according to one U.S. military official, the period of intensive ground searches had already ended.
But several soldiers in his unit say the quest to locate him never really ended, and that it was an element of every mission they undertook, prompting some to blame the deaths on him.
The U.S. Army has declined to give an account of those fraught weeks saying a new investigation will be conducted when Bergdahl, now being treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, is able to take part.
Jake Tapper interviewed several members of Bergdahl's unit and, to a man, each soldier said that their comrades died as a result of Bergdahl leaving his post. The soldiers who were killed would not have been where they were when they were killed if Bergdahl had stayed where he was supposed to be.
"I can't really say I blame Bergdahl to the fullest extent," former Staff Sgt. Justin Gerleve, Bergdahl's squad leader, told CNN last week, "but if he wouldn't have deserted us, these soldiers very well could have been in a different place at a different time, rather than the place at the time of their death."
Interviews with soldiers familiar with the specific missions in which the six died suggest the charge is complicated -- but not without merit given how much the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment became focused on "PR" -- personnel recovery -- after Bergdahl vanished from his guard post on June 30, 2009.
"The fact of the matter is, when those soldiers were killed, they would not have been where they were at if Bergdahl had not have left," said former Sgt. Evan Buetow, Bergdahl's former team leader. "Bergdahl leaving changed the mission."
Those charges were repeated by a noncommissioned officer who requested anonymity because he is still in the Army, one who described himself as a two-time voter for President Obama, lest anyone think his comments were political in any way.
"If Bergdahl hadn't left it's entirely plausible that they wouldn't have had those follow-on missions or been where they were," said the NCO, who served in the 501st.
Some also argue that the personnel recovery mission angered the local population, and created patterns in troops' movement that made insurgent attacks easier.
None of that has been enough to quell critics who accuse the soldiers of smearing Bergdahl and exaggerating the role his disappearance played in the deaths of the six men.
A New York Times story cited by critics of the soldiers from the 501st now calling Bergdahl a deserter doesn't go into much detail about the six men from Bergdahl's battalion, instead focusing on a separate attack that killed two mortarmen.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he didn't "know of circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sgt. Bergdahl."
A U.S. official told CNN last week that Pentagon and Army officials have looked at the claims, and "right now there is no evidence to back that up."
Now isn't that just like the New York Times? Obfuscating the issue by reporting on an unrelated incident. Not too transparent, are they?
I can see where members of Bergdahl's uinit would think that he was at least partially responsible for those 6 deaths. Focusing on when the "official" search ended is viewing the issue with blinders on. If "personnel recovery" was part of their missions months after Bergdahl disappeared, you can certainly make the argument that he is responsible to a certain degree.
The pushback is pure politics and members of Bergdahl's unit don't deserve to be smeared for telling the truth.