Several military veterans are branding U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released Saturday after nearly five years in Taliban captivity, as a "deserter" who put the lives of his fellow troops at risk when he walked off base in June of 2009.
Bergdahl's disappearance was shrouded in secrecy after his capture by the Taliban, but former soldiers—including some from his platoon—have come forward to say the soldier willfully deserted his post before being abducted.
"I was pissed off then and I am even more so now with everything going on," former Sgt. Matt Vierkant said, CNN reports. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him." Vierkant, who was part of Bergdahl's platoon when he disappeared that June, said Bergdahl should face a military trial for deserting in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Nathan Bradley Bethea, who served as an infantry officer from 2007 to 2014, made similar comments to The Daily Beast. "Bergdahl did not 'lag behind on a patrol,' as was cited in news reports at the time," Bethea writes.
"There was no patrol that night. Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened."
Bethea goes on to say that an attack on a U.S.-Afghan outpost a few days after Bergdahl went missing, which killed two and injured hundreds of others, would not have occurred had aircraft resources not been assigned to look for Berhdahl. "My friend blames Bergdahl for his soldiers’ deaths. I know that he is not alone, and that this was not the only instance of it." Bethea then names six more soldiers who he says were killed or died from injuries sustained during missions related to the searches for Bergdahl.
A 2012 Rolling Stone article on Bergdahl reported that he sent his parents an email before he departed saying he was both "ashamed to even be [A]merican" because of the war.
Over the weekend a number of Republican congressmen criticized the terms of Bergdahl's release and said the White House's handling of the deal put soldiers at greater risk of being abducted in future.