Soldier in Afghan ordeal ‘walked away from unit’

A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, according to a former senior defence official.

Instead, the US government pursued negotiations to get him back over the following five years of his captivity — a track that led to his release over the weekend.

Bergdahl was being checked and treated yesterday at a US military hospital in Germany as questions mounted over the swap that resulted in his freedom in exchange for the release of five detainees who were sent to Qatar from the US prison at Guantanamo, Cuba.

Even in the first hours of Bergdahl’s handover to US special forces in eastern Afghanistan, it was clear this would not be an uncomplicated yellow-ribbon celebration. Five terrorist suspects also walked free, stirring a debate over whether the exchange would heighten the risk of other Americans being snatched as bargaining chips and whether the released detainees — senior Taliban figures among them — would find their way back to the fight.

US officials said Bergdahl’s health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action. “Had we waited and lost him,” said national security adviser Susan Rice, “I don’t think anybody would have forgiven the United States government.”

She said he had lost considerable weight and faced an “acute” situation. Yet she also said he appeared to be “in good physical condition”.

One official said there were concerns about Bergdahl’s mental and emotional as well as physical health.

Yesterday, a US military hospital in Germany reported Bergdahl in “stable condition and receiving treatment for conditions requiring hospitalisation”. The Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre said Bergdahl’s treatment “includes attention to dietary and nutrition needs after almost five years in captivity” but declined to release further details. It said there “is no pre-determined amount of time involved in the reintegration process” for the 28-year-old.

Officials said the Taliban may have been concerned about his health, as well, since the US had sent the message that it would respond harshly if any harm befell him.

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