Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today (May 31, 2014) announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s Afghan captors have released him to the U.S. military after taking him prisoner nearly five years ago while he was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
Bergdahl, at the time a private first class, went missing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He was the only U.S. service member known to be held captive there.
The now 28-year-old soldier was thought captured by the Haqqani network. He appeared in a proof-of-life video that surfaced last January and military officials said at the time they believed the video to be recently made.
“A few hours ago, the family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was informed by President [Barack] Obama that their long wait for his return will soon be over,” Hagel said in today’s statement.
“We will give him all the support he needs to help him recover from this ordeal,” the secretary added, “and we are grateful that he will soon be reunited with his family.”
Also today, Hagel said he informed Congress of the decision to transfer five detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Qatar.
“The United States has coordinated closely with Qatar to ensure that security measures are in place and the national security of the United States will not be compromised,” Hagel said.
“I appreciate the efforts of the Emir of Qatar to put these measures in place and I want to thank him for his instrumental role in facilitating the return of Sgt. Bergdahl,” the secretary acknowledged.
One of Hagel’s first acts upon taking office in February 2013 was to call the Bergdahl family about their son’s situation, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said during a January press conference.
In June 2011 the Army announced that it had promoted Bergdahl to the rank of sergeant. Bergdahl, now 27, is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska.
That was Bergdahl’s second promotion since he was listed as Missing-Captured on June 30, 2009. He was promoted to the rank of specialist in June 2010.
“Sgt. Bergdahl’s return is a powerful reminder of the enduring, sacred commitment our nation makes to all those who serve in uniform,” Hagel said in his statement today.
The U.S. government never forgot Sgt. Bergdahl, he added, and the Defense Department and other federal agencies never stopped working to bring him back.
“I am grateful to all the military and civilian professionals - from DOD and our interagency partners - who helped make this moment possible, and to all those Americans who stood vigil with the Bergdahl family,” the secretary said.
Hagel issued the announcement while on a 12-day international trip to countries in Asia and Europe.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey also commented on Bergdahl’s return today. The chairman said in a written statement, “It is our ethos that we never leave a fallen comrade. Today we have back in our ranks the only remaining captured soldier from our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Welcome home, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.”
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
Obama, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s Parents, Give Thanks for His Freedom
At the White House today, President Barack Obama stood with Bob and Jani Bergdahl as they thanked the governments of the United States, Qatar and Afghanistan, the military services, and all supporters of their son Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during his nearly five years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
“This morning I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl and told them that after nearly five years in captivity their son Bowe is coming home,” Obama said.
Sgt. Bergdahl has missed birthdays, holidays and the simple moments with family and friends that most people take for granted, the president added, but he was never forgotten.
Bergdahl’s parents and his older sister Sky prayed every day for his safe return, Obama said. His Idaho community and the military never forgot him and neither did his country, the president added, “because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
As commander in chief, Obama said, “I am proud of the service members who recovered Sgt. Bergdahl and brought him safely out of harm’s way. As usual, they performed with extraordinary courage and professionalism and they have made their nation proud.”
Obama said the priority now is to make sure Bergdahl gets the care and support he needs and that he is reunited with his family as soon as possible.
The president said he is grateful for the tireless work of the nation’s diplomats and for cooperation by the government of Qatar in helping secure the soldier’s release.
“We’ve worked for several years to achieve this goal, and earlier this week I was able to personally thank the Emir of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done,” Obama said, adding that as part of the effort the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.
“The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” he added. “I also want to express gratitude to the Afghan government, which always supported our efforts to secure Bowe’s release.”
Going forward, the president said, the United States will continue to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation that could help secure a hard-earned peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan.
“As I said earlier this week, we’re committed to winding down the war in Afghanistan and we are committed to closing Gitmo. But we also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home,” Obama said.
“That’s who we are as Americans,” he added. “It’s a profound obligation within our military and today, at least in this instance, it’s a promise we’ve been able to keep.”
The president said he is mindful of the many troops from past wars who remain missing.
“That’s why we’re never going to forget, [and] we’re never going to give up our search for service members who remain unaccounted for,” Obama said. “We also remain deeply committed to securing the release of American citizens who are unjustly detained abroad and deserve to be reunited with their families.”
Turning to the Bergdahls, Obama said, “As a parent I can’t imagine the hardship you guys have gone through. As president, I know that I speak for all Americans when I say that we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son Bowe is back in your arms.”
Jani Bergdahl thanked everyone who has supported her son, and Bob Bergdahl spoke a few phrases in Pashto, saying that his son is having trouble speaking English after nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan.
“The complicated nature of this recovery will never really be comprehended,” Bergdahl’s father said. “To each and every one who effected this, in this country, in the service branches, at the State Department, throughout the American government and international governments around the world, thank you so much.”
After the Bergdahls’ remarks, Obama hugged each of them and, with his arms still around Jani Bergdahl he said, “It’s a good day.”
“Yes,” she answered, turning to walk back toward the White House with the president and her husband, “it’s a good day.
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service