By Michelle Malkin, For Real Clear Politics
Five years ago, I publicly raised questions about Bowe Bergdahl's desertion from Blackfoot Company, 1-501 Infantry (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
A few weeks after his so-called "capture" in late June 2009, three conflicting accounts surfaced: U.S. officials told the Associated Press Bergdahl had "walked off" the base with three Afghans; the Taliban claimed on its website that "a drunken American soldier had come out of his garrison" and into their arms; and Bergdahl claimed in his Taliban "hostage video" that he had "lagged behind a patrol" before being captured.
I asked on my blog: Were the AP's sources mistaken? Or is the disturbing first account the right one? What about the "three Afghans" Pfc. Bergdahl reportedly "just walked off" with after his shift? Who are they? What's going on?
Five years ago, one of the brave soldiers who risked his life to search for Bergdahl answered my questions, and I published his statement on July 20, 2009: "I know the story and the accounts that he was drunk or that he was lagging behind on patrol are not true -- this soldier planned this move for a long time. He walked off the post with a day's supply of water and had written down before that he wanted to live in the mountains. ... He is an embarrassment to everyone who has worn the uniform."
After news broke this weekend of President Obama's trade of five high-level Taliban commanders at Gitmo for Bergdahl's "freedom," I heard from another soldier who served on the search team. "Many of my brothers died because of Bergdahl's actions, and this has been a very hard day for all Geronimos," he told me after documenting his proof of service. Other journalists ignored his attempts to get the truth out. My source still holds a highly sensitive position, so you won't see him all over the cable news shows. But he wants all of you to know the hell he and his comrades have been reliving:
"I was assigned to 1st Platoon of Blackfoot Company," based out of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno in Khost, Afghanistan, he said. "Bowe's platoon was assigned to conduct security and stability operations out of FOB Sharana and other locations in Paktika. The untold background that led to Bowe's situation involves an article and pictures published by Guardian reporter Sean Smith." One of the battalion leaders punished soldiers, including Bergdahl (who had been photographed snoozing in his armored vehicle), with extra guard duty assignments for conducting operations in an unprofessional manner at Outpost MEST (OP MEST).
"Bergdahl was already disenchanted with the war effort," my source said, "and I think the extra duty was the last straw for him." On the morning of June 30, 2009, "Bergdahl completed a guard shift, removed his equipment, weapon and sensitive items, and left OP MEST with several Afghan security forces personnel. He took a compass, a couple bottles of water and two knives and his journal. His exact intentions may never be known, but he willingly walked off OP MEST and was secured by enemy forces not long after."
My source, who had been up the previous night on a separate raid, was "shaken awake" on the afternoon Bergdahl disappeared. "We were told there was a DUSTWUN (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown), and to pack for a three-hour assault. We received a brief that Bergdahl was missing, and we were going to get him. ... Sometime after dark we boarded CH-47's to assault an objective thought to contain Bergdahl. We never made it to the landing zone, as the helicopters took very heavy fire on approach to the objective and had to divert."