TIME Military

The Final Trip Home: A Young Soldier’s Funeral in Photos

Aaron Toppen, 19, was killed earlier this month in a deadly friendly fire airstrike during a firefight in Afghanistan.

TIME movies

Not One but Two Bowe Bergdahl Movies Are Already Being Planned

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
In this undated image provided by the U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl poses in front of an American flag. U.S. Army/Getty Images

One is to be produced by the duo that gave us Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker; the other is based on a biographical article by late journalist Michael Hastings

It’s been only three days since Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned to the U.S. after nearly five years in a Taliban prison, and already Hollywood is seeking to capitalize on the surrounding controversy. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed on Monday night that two competing Bergdahl biopics are in the works.

The first comes from Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, two filmmakers fairly seasoned in the craft of politically topical movies. Together, they wrote, directed and produced Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, which collectively won seven Academy Awards.

Todd Field — In the Bedroom and Little Children — also has plans to direct and produce a Bergdahl film for Fox Searchlight, having acquired the rights to late journalist Michael Hastings’ 2012 Rolling Stone profile on “America’s last prisoner of war.”

Though the Hollywood Reporter describes the two projects as “competing,” there may be little overlap between them. Boal and Bigelow’s film is said to treat the issue of Bergdahl’s release by Afghan forces — in a controversial trade for five Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody — whereas Hastings’ Rolling Stone piece, the presumed basis for Field’s script, caters more to the 28-year-old’s backstory.

At this point, though, both projects still sit very much on the drawing board. Neither Boal and Bigelow nor Field have obtained Bergdahl’s “life rights,” and any biographical film produced without them may run into some development hurdles.

TIME foreign affairs

Obama Doesn’t Need an Afghanistan-Taliban Peace Deal

Obama,Karzai And Zardari Brief Media After White House Meetings
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and the President of Pakistan Asif Zardari in the Cabinet Room of the White House on May 6, 2009 in Washington, DC. The talks centered on how the unstable governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan can work with the United States to crack down on the Taliban insurgency. Pool—Getty Images

The U.S. may exit in 2016, but it will need to bring and keep Afghans at the table for a long time after that.

Growing up, Ronald Neumann went to a school with a gang problem. At least, that’s what many people thought. But by the time Neumann got to high school, most of the gangs had been cleaned up. The perception remained however, that his high school was plagued with unsavory characters. This served as an important lesson for the man who would later become the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan: reputation follows fact.

But Afghanistan is no high school. As the U.S. Ambassador from 2005-2007, Neumann was tasked with changing the narrative and reputation of the war. Before the reputation of Afghanistan could be fixed, however, he needed to find out what was happening on the ground. But finding the truth, in a country like Afghanistan, with competing and contradictory narratives, was a skill beyond even his skills and experience, which left the reputation building a task still undone.

Even now, the recent release of five Al Qaeda prisoners in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl shows how fungible facts can feel. As New America Fellow Anand Gopal recently wrote, “The categories we take as rigid and unchanging, such as ‘terrorist’, are in fact remarkably fluid in the context of Afghan politics.”

This lack of a coherent reputation confuses the discussions about U.S. strategic interests in Afghanistan. Should we be propping up the current Afghan government (which will change after the second round of elections on June 14), negotiating with the Taliban, or leaving the country outright? Whose reputations are we working to preserve?

“Afghanistan is enormously complex. Province to province, sometimes district to district, things are enormously difficult and different,” said Amb. Neumann at a New America event in June.

Chris Kolenda, a former Senior Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Department of Defense, agreed that it is hard to boil things down to talking points that have a simple narrative or solution set. In a complex tribal environment that’s endured 35 years of war, it is difficult enough to string together a set of facts, let alone singular objectives or interests.

One fact, though, is that America has multiple objectives and interests in Afghanistan, and some of them conflict with each other, said Neumann. The U.S. has an interest in preventing the collapse of Pakistan, but equally must pressure Pakistan to get tougher with al-Qaeda. “Sometimes, the world is a contradictory place.”

With all of this complexity, all of these conflicting facts, narratives, and interests in Afghanistan, what should the U.S. do, especially after President Obama recently announced that he is planning to pull troops out of Afghanistan by 2016?

Clare Lockhart, President of the Institute for State Effectiveness, suggested that the Obama administration should emphasize a peace process, not a peace deal, between the Taliban and Afghan government. We can’t expect a “Hollywood style” scene with 20-men sitting around a table, striking a deal, she said.

But in this peace process, what role should the U.S. play?

Since the U.S. announced its plans to leave Afghanistan by 2016, we have nothing to offer – at least while acting alone, Amb. Neumann said.

Kolenda agreed, and noted that the U.S should work in concert with the international community to bring and keep Afghans at the table. “This is going to have to be a process, that is going to have to go on for a very, very long time.”

The burden doesn’t just fall on governments. Reputations are formed by what outsiders see and hear about a place. That leaves the media with a responsibility to accurately report what is happening in the country, the three emphasized.

For the first few years after the 2001 elections, most international stories focused on the success and turnaround of Afghanistan, Lockhart said. Reporters wrote favorably of new Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and largely ignored the problems that were plaguing the country.

Lockhart confronted editors and producers, pointing out that if they didn’t report on some of the challenges, the problems of Afghanistan would never be fixed. Editors took note, but the pendulum swung too far. Soon, stories about Afghanistan emphasized the ineffective government, weak security apparatus, and failure of international aid.

Again, Lockhart called out editors for bias. “Some of the editors have actually responded, ‘Ok, we agree,’” she said. Today, the pendulum’s swing is steadier, reflected in recent coverage of the first round of Presidential elections. During voting, the domestic and international media refused to cover and report on violence within the country. “There was actually a great deal of violence,” said Amb. Neumann. “In fact, journalists and editors were getting calls from the Taliban saying ‘wait a minute, we just blew something up, and you’re not reporting it.”

For Lockhart, Neumann and Kolenda, the hope is that if international press narrative more accurately represents Afghanistan’s progress, it can build confidence both domestically and amongst international actors.

Both candidates for President of Afghanistan have committed to signing a strategic partnership with the United States, the first step on the road to stability. It’s all part of a long process. Narratives reinforcing narratives, and, slowly, improving facts on the ground. Reputations may be set in high school – but college can be fertile ground for reinvention.

Justin Lynch is the Social Media Coordinator at the New America Foundation. Outside of New America, Justin is the Youth Ambassador to the United Nations for Voices of African Mothers, where he works to promote gender equality and educational opportunity in West Africa. He is also a political blogger for the Bangor Daily News. The piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Michael Hastings

Lessons From My Husband Michael Hastings

Michael Hastings Elise Jordan
Courtesy Elise Jordan

His first novel, a satire of the media, will be published next week. Here’s what the late former war correspondent would make of the coverage of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl—the most important story of his career.

Audiences are constantly frustrated and baffled by what becomes “news,” what gets ignored and which stories go on and on — the hours spent salivating over another book by Hillary Clinton wholly devoid of news, for instance. Who decides all this stuff? My late husband Michael Hastings channeled his frustration with the media’s choices into a work of fiction, The Last Magazine, which comes out next week.

Michael is best known for his acclaimed Rolling Stone profile that unintentionally brought down General Stanley McChrystal. But the story closest to his heart was all but invisible until last week: the plight of prisoner of war Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Before Bergdahl has made it out of a hospital in Germany, he’s been called a deserter and traitor. The media’s self-centered bastardization of “news” inspired Michael, from his first days as an intern and cub reporter at Newsweek throughout his career.

Sergeant Bergdahl’s story did not gain traction until his release became politicized. Everyone in the media understands why. Most of the men and women in the industry hate it too. But they live with it, some quite complacently. But what happens when they don’t?

After years of reporting on Iraq and Afghanistan — watching what he called “jaw-dropping news” rarely break into the news cycle — Michael decided to go after the human stories behind the wars: what people really say, how people really act, the things they really believe. “If nobody died, war would be NFL football. But people die, and that’s the cost. You lose people and their futures,” Michael said. He cared about lost futures and discounted the accounting: “We fixate on the numbers, and we get numb.”

Baghdad Adhamiyah Sweep
Michael Hastings in Baghdad. Lucian Read

While reporting Bergdahl’s story, Michael had his own problems sleeping, pacing our apartment through the night and chain-smoking cigarettes as he worked on the story. He agonized over the possibility that a casual detail might incite Bergdahl’s captors to behead the young soldier. Michael thought it was the most important story of his career, and he was sure the story would break through the news cycle. He readied for attacks, like the vitriol from colleagues that he confronted following his McChrystal profile. No one seemed to care.

Bergdahl wasn’t powerful. So Bergdahl languished — wasting away, physically shrinking, escaping only to be recaptured and locked in a metal box, tortured — in captivity, until the Obama Administration decided to accept the same exact terms proposed by the Afghan Taliban, two years later, as originally reported in Michael’s story.

I listened to Michael and his reporting partner Matt Farwell’s interviews with the Bergdahl family this weekend and was struck by all the material that is still vital to understanding such a complex tragedy — the material Michael couldn’t fit into a single profile. Like when Bergdahl’s father Bob laments the U.S. government’s decision to make freeing Raymond Davis from Pakistan a priority: ”So if you’re a CIA Blackwater mercenary, you get the red carpet extraction, but if you’re just a grunt who happens to be the victim of war …” His father’s voice trails off. “I think worst-case scenario, he’s a psychological casualty. Thank God [he] didn’t commit suicide.”

With McChrystal, Michael was fascinated by how someone can kill so many, however honorable the intentions, yet never seem to lose an hour of sleep. (Or in McChrystal’s case, even need sleep in the first place.) In young Bergdahl, Michael saw the complete opposite of the four-star. McChrystal exuded power; Bergdahl lacked it, so he lacked a voice. When a sensitive 22-year-old from Idaho went missing from a remote outpost in Afghanistan, Michael asked the question few others bothered with: Why?

We’ve seen the personal destruction of a decade-plus of war: drugs, suicides, broken marriages and posttraumatic stress. Through it all, Bergdahl lay awake on a cot, likely in a sleeping bag under a mosquito net, alone in the world, in what many describe as the edge of civilization. What drove a teetotaler, a voracious reader and ballet dancer, to such an extreme decision? What was he thinking?

Michael knew, of course, that without Bergdahl’s side of the story, he’d never have a definitive answer. And we still have that answer ahead of us — a reality that insensitive politicians and media commentators ignore as they pass judgment on a young man still in psychological hell after being tortured and enduring the unimaginable.

But Michael got more to the truth of Bergdahl’s actions and his motivations than any other journalist reporting the story today. We need to wait until Bergdahl’s ready to talk to find out why, instead of wildly overplaying certain unknowns and ignoring others. Michael would have been disgusted by the exploitation of personal tragedy for craven ends. What would serve us even better right now is a wider canvas, someone stepping back to analyze and satirize the whole process. Someone on the inside, but a rebellious voice, refusing to answer to anyone but his readers. To state the obvious: it’s one of the many reasons I miss Michael Hastings.

Jordan is a writer and political commentator. She is a former speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and director for communications at the National Security Council.

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Is Back in the U.S.

The former P.O.W. is now receiving treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Tex.

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After five years in Taliban captivity, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last remaining American P.O.W. in Afghanistan, is back in the United States, the Pentagon confirmed Friday.

“Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has arrived at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio,” Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement. “While there, he will continue the next phase of his reintegration process. There is no timeline for this process. Our focus remains on his health and well-being. Secretary Hagel is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration.”

Bergdahl, a 28-year-old Idaho native, was captured in June 2009 after vanishing from the base where he was stationed in Afghanistan. He was released by the Taliban on May 31 in exchange for five Taliban prisoners released from captivity at the Guantanamo Bay military prison. The Obama administration drew criticism over the deal from some quarters, but insisted it had to act quickly to secure Bergdahl’s release due to his deteriorating health.

A pair of letters purportedly written by Bergdahl to his family while he was held captive and made public Friday may offer some explanation as to why he left his post. In the letters, obtained by The Daily Beast, Bergdahl supposedly asks that his family “tell those involved in the investigation into his disappearance that there are more sides to the cittuation (sic).”

The letters, here quoted with the author’s spelling and grammar, describe “Unexceptable conditions fror the men working and risking life every moment outside the wire” and lament that “clear minded understanding from leadership was lacking, if not non-exictent.”

“Please tell d.C. to wiat for all evadince to come in,” the letter says.

Handwriting in the two documents, written in 2012 and 2013, does not match and they are riddled with spelling errors. According to the Beast, Bergdahl’s family told officials they believe the letters to be genuine.

“Following Sgt. Bergdahl’s reintegration, the Army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity,” the Army said in a statement Friday.

After his release, Bergdahl was transported to a military facility in Germany, where officials determined that he is emotionally unstable after reportedly suffering harsh treatment at the hands of the Taliban. He reportedly refused to speak with his family after his release.

TIME Military

The Significance of Bergdahl’s ‘Washing Out’ of the Coast Guard

This is our office
Recruits at the Coast Guard's boot camp in Cape May, N.J., do pushups on the beach. Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska / Coast Guard

If he couldn’t tend to the coasts, why’d the Army think he could handle the Taliban?

The U.S. government confirmed Wednesday that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was discharged early from the Coast Guard, after only 26 days in boot camp, two years before he tried to enlist in the Army.

The fact raises questions on a third front that has nothing to do with how Bergdahl came to be captured by the Taliban, or how much the Obama Administration did to win his freedom May 31 in an exchange for five senior Taliban leaders: why did the Army let a failed Coast Guardsman join its ranks?

Friends of Bergdahl told the Washington Post that the Coast Guard discharged him for psychological reasons, but neither the Coast Guard nor the Army has specified why Bergdahl left the Coast Guard’s boot camp in Cape May, N.J., in early 2006. The Coast Guard described the action as an “uncharacterized discharge,” which is typical for someone who leaves the service without completing basic training.

Generally such an event is a red flag that would have required a waiver from the Army before allowing such a prospective recruit to enlist. A wide variety of bars to enlistment—including legal problems and health concerns—require waivers because the Pentagon believes such recruits won’t do as well in uniform as those without such warning signs.

In 2008, the year Bergdahl joined the Army, the service granted waivers for about 20% of its recruits, usually for illicit drug use or other legal problems. Such waivers spiked as the popular support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sagged and it became more difficult to entice young Americans to serve in uniform.

Bergdahl’s aborted Coast Guard service is the latest twist in a strange series of events about the case. It began as a joyous Rose Garden celebration at the White House with his parents to announce his freedom. Within days, it soured into bitter comments from fellow soldiers who declared that Bergdahl had deserted his post in a war zone, leading to hunts for him that they say played a role in the combat deaths of at least six U.S. troops (the Pentagon says it has no evidence of direct links between the deaths and the manhunt).

Now it has become a darker tale about a seemingly-confused young man whose woes the Army may have been willing to overlook to gain a willing recruit for the war in Afghanistan.

 

TIME Afghanistan

Report: Friendly Fire Incident Kills 5 U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan

Five NATO service members and one Afghan soldiers were killed in in what officials fear was a case of "fratricide"

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Five U.S. soldiers and one Afghan soldier were killed in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, reportedly in an incident of friendly fire.

NATO said that the soldiers were patrolling a volatile region of southern Afghanistan when their unit came under enemy fire. An Afghan police chief told the New York Times that the soldiers were ambushed at close-range by Taliban militants. The soldiers radioed for air support, at which point a coalition jet mistakenly bombed their position, the Times reported.

NATO has not confirmed the details of the soldiers’ death, saying that the incident was still under investigation. “Tragically, there is the possibility that fratricide may have been involved,” read a statement from the International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s coalition force in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon confirmed that five U.S. troops had been killed on Tuesday. “Investigators are looking into the likelihood that friendly fire was the cause,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these fallen.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: June 10

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Five American troops killed in southern Afghanistan; Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko talks to TIME about his Russian neighbors; A scathing Veteran Affairs Department report; Hillary Clinton's ABC interview; The Virginia Medicaid fight

  • “Five American troops were killed in southern Afghanistan in a rare friendly fire airstrike that struck a team of Afghan and U.S. troops conducting a security operation in the lead up to Saturday’s presidential election…” [WashPost]
  • “Ukraine’s new President Petro Poroshenko wants to see Russia punished for what he calls the ‘tragedy’ that befell his country this year. But even as Russia has annexed one region of Ukraine and encouraged a violent rebellion in two others, Ukraine does not have the option of breaking off ties with the Kremlin, Poroshenko told TIME in his first interview since taking office. His government has no choice but to seek ‘an understanding’ with Russia, he says, even if for no other reason than the hard reality of Ukraine’s geography.” [TIME]
  • “The Department of Veterans Affairs stopped sending teams of turnaround experts to underperforming hospitals at the same time a growing number of VA facilities showed consistently high death and complication rates, internal agency records and interviews reveal.” [WSJ]
    • “An internal investigation released Monday into the secret waiting lists and other chicanery that kept veterans from receiving timely care was like a Chinese firecracker that kept exploding with every turn of its 54 pages. More than 100,000 vets have experienced waits longer than 90 days for medical care. That includes 57,000 who are waiting 90 days or more for their initial appointment, and 64,000 who requested appointments over the past decade and never got them.” [TIME]
    • Sens. Bernie Sanders and John McCain introduce VA reform bill. [TIME]
  • “With a smile, Hillary Clinton deflected tough questions on Monday on the eve of the release of her book Hard Choices.” [TIME]
  • “Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was once thought to be among the Republican incumbents most vulnerable this year to a Tea Party challenge. But the most pressing question on Tuesday is not whether he will finish first in the party primary, but whether he can avoid a runoff by capturing more than 50 percent of the vote in a seven-person field.” [NYT]
  • “Virginia Republicans snatched control of the state Senate on Monday, immediately ending a budget stalemate by pushing Democrats to agree to pass a spending plan without Medicaid expansion, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s top priority.” [WashPost]
    • “The fight over expanding Medicaid in Virginia has taken a turn for the bizarre and perhaps the corrupt.” [New Republic]
TIME

Bergdahl: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

President Obama Makes A Statement On Release Of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl
President Obama announces the release of Bowe Bergdahl, with the sergeant's parents by his side, in the White House Rose Garden May 31. J.H. Owen / Getty Images

Misinformation clouds the debate over the soldier-Taliban swap

Monday marked the first time in a week that the controversy swirling around the deal to win Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s release wasn’t on the front pages of the nation’s three most influential newspapers.

A clear bottom line seems to be emerging, both among the military and the public: President Obama was right to make a deal to bring him home. But two tough questions remain: did Obama give too much to win Bergdahl’s release? And will Bergdahl be held accountable for any malfeasance that may have contributed to his nearly five years in captivity?

Statements made rashly often don’t hold up in hindsight. Sure, talking heads on cable TV continue to foam at the mouth, but the fact that the dust is beginning to settle following Bergdahl’s exchange for five senior Taliban leaders on May 31 offers a chance to ponder where the story now stands.

Here’s an accounting, based on interviews with current and former military troops, including some who served with Bergdahl, as well as family members who believe the hunt for the missing soldier led to the deaths of their loved ones:

  • With the U.S. troop presence shrinking in Afghanistan, the Taliban feared Bergdahl was a depreciating asset. If his value shrunk too much, the Administration fears that the Taliban might have come to believe that keeping him alive wasn’t worth the effort.
  • Bergdahl was sick and getting sicker. According to U.S. military officials, he was brutalized and confined to a cage, often in the dark, following escape attempts. “It was a proof-of-life video” that convinced the Administration to act, a senior Pentagon official says of a December 2013 recording that U.S. officials didn’t see until January. “Just showed him talking and referring to recent events. Though difficult to make precise medical diagnoses from such, it was evident to experts who watched it that he was not in good health.” The Administration’s line might have more credibility if the recovery had happened more quickly after seeing the video. There are also suspicions that the Taliban began treating Bergdahl better as negotiations for his release looked like they might succeed.
  • The White House plainly erred in having the President hold a Rose Garden ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents, Bob and Jani, to announce his release. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday the choice of the garden to make the announcement signaled the President’s commitment to leave no soldier behind. “We didn’t have to do it at the Rose Garden, but that is a very important principle,” he added. “So standing in the Rose Garden to make that assessment or make that commitment clear is exactly what the President chose to do.”
  • Retired four-star Marine general Anthony Zinni, who once headed U.S. Central Command, said the Pentagon may have stumbled by not telling the White House that military should handle the return announcement. “It was the right thing to do to bring him home, but I think it was handled miserably and I think the fault lies with the Pentagon,” Zinni says. He recalls when Vietnam-era U.S. troops held as prisoners came home, and the strict orders from commanders to avoid saying anything too laudatory about those suspected of less-than-stellar actions while imprisoned. “I distinctly remember the generals getting cautioned about not going overboard,” Zinni says. Of course, he acknowledges, the White House could have ignored such warnings from the Pentagon.
  • The White House compounded the problem by sending Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., on television the following day to declare that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” That really set off the troops who served alongside Bergdahl and say he deserted. The White House’s counter has been weak. “The point that I would make to you is that any American who puts on the uniform and volunteers to fight for this country overseas is doing something honorable,” Earnest said Monday.
  • Perhaps a half-dozen U.S. troops died hunting for Bergdahl after he allegedly left his post in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. “Bergdahl’s walking away was a large factor contributing to my son’s death,” Andy Andrews of Cameron, Texas, said Monday. His son, 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, was killed by an RPG September 4, 2009, while protecting a fellow soldier. They had been on a routine patrol near where Bergdahl vanished, and had been asking locals about him when they were attacked. “Sergeant Bergdahl is not a hero, and my son—who sacrificed himself to save others—was a hero,” Andrews says. This is the most inflammatory charge, and quickly surfaced, once Bergdahl was out of enemy hands, from soldiers who served with him. That tells us two things: the soldiers kept quiet (they had also signed non-disclosure agreements concerning Bergdahl’s disappearance) until he was safe. But once safe, they felt their sense of duty required them to tell the truth as they saw it. But direct links between the deaths and the hunt for Bergdahl remain elusive.
  • Some fringe elements have posted anonymously—absent proof and without hearing Bergdahl’s side of the story—that he is a traitor. They contend Bergdahl is a deserter and deserves to be shot. His hometown of Hailey, Idaho, feeling the ire, cancelled a welcome-home celebration slated for June 28. While this is beyond vile, it’s something that today’s polarized politics nurtures. “They say we’re kind of a disgrace, or what a shame it is to have a celebration for a traitor,” Kristy Heitzman of the local Chamber of Commerce said. “They say they had planned on coming to the area to go fishing or camping, but now they won’t be coming to Idaho.”
  • The deal makes U.S. troops more vulnerable to kidnapping now that the Taliban know they can be swapped for high-value comrades. While some military officers agree, they also note that a U.S. POW has now been shown to be more valuable that a U.S. KIA.
  • Critics of the deal maintain the five senior Taliban released for Bergdahl will, in all probability, return to the fight after spending the coming year in high-walled villas in Doha, Qatar, 1,200 miles from Kabul. Military officers say that’s likely.
  • There is concern that the swap seems to have been a one-off deal, with no larger bargain—one that might help end the war—in the offing. “The goal of this recent effort was to secure the release of Sergeant Bergdahl,” Earnest said. “We did not want to reduce the likelihood of our success in securing his release by injecting a rather complicated variable into it.”
  • There will be plenty of time to probe just how Bergdahl came to be missing in the coming months. If an investigation determines that he should face charges of desertion or other counts, he could plead guilty in exchange for reduced punishment. There is a sense in some military quarters that five years imprisoned by the Taliban is punishment enough.

The true bottom line, after all the acrimony—and sanctimony—is pretty straightforward. “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of -a-bitch,” James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general who served as chief of U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, said Monday. “So let’s get him back, let the Army investigate, and we’ll sort it out.”

TIME

Obama on Bergdahl Prisoner Exchange: I Would Do It Again

"This is something that I would do again and I will continue to do wherever I have an opportunity," the President told NBC's Brian Williams.

President Barack Obama continued to defend swapping Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban militants Friday, telling NBC News’ Brian Williams that he would do it again despite the public controversy that has followed.

In an interview that aired on the 7oth anniversary of D-Day, Williams asked the President why he didn’t notify key members of Congress in advance, as is typical. Obama replied: “When somebody wears our country’s uniform and they’re in a war theater and they’re captured, we’re going to do everything we can to bring them home.” He added, “We had to act fast in a delicate situation that required no publicity.”

The White House negotiated a prisoner swap of five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl’s release after five years in captivity, but the deal has been mired in controversy in part amid scrutiny of Bergdahl’s absence from his post in Afghanistan before his capture.

“We saw an opportunity and we took it. And I make no apologies for it,” Obama said in the interview. “This is something that I would do again and I will continue to do wherever I have an opportunity, if I have a member of our military who’s in captivity. We’re going to try to get ‘em out.”

Obama spoke with Williams in Normandy, France, where the President joined world leaders to mark the 70thth anniversary of D-Day on Friday. During the full interview, which airs on NBC at 8 p.m ET, Obama also addressed former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he met face-to-face Friday for the first time since relations broke down over the Ukraine crisis earlier this year.

Regarding Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Putin said: “They need to stop financing and arming separatists who have been wreaking havoc in the eastern part of the country– and that if Russia begins to act in accordance with basic international principles, then I’m confident that the United States– Russia relationship will improve,” he said.

 

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