Defense Secretary Ashton Carter might be moving toward making a new demand for top generals — ditch the PowerPoints and simply talk instead.
Before meeting on Monday with top officials in Kuwait to discuss Islamic State threats, Carter banned the use of PowerPoint presentations “to challenge his commanders’ thinking,” the Washington Post reported.
It is about time that someone with global authority state this and get Commanders at all levels to leave the laptops and grab the notepad. LTG HR McMasters is the last one, and the highest ranking person I have ever heard speak disdain for PowerPoint. As @Doctrine_Man says in the story, it is a tool and that is all it is. However the military has morphed it from being a simple tool, to the use of Powerpoint being an entire methodology.
Commanders need to get back to Warning Orders, Operation Orders, and FRAGOS. That is how the Army has successfully run for years and while a nice clean presentation has its place, all that is needed is an objective and Commander’s intent on the back of a MRE carton for a mission to have clarity and focus.
“We cannot kill our way out of this war” – State Department Spokeswoman, Marie Harf
This has to be the absolute dumbest thing I have ever heard spoken by any supposedly educated person with at least two inches of forehead. I am not sure what this “young” lady has learned in all of her history classes or if she has ever even spoke to a person who has been in combat.
I can assure this ignorant government employee that the only way a country (any country) WINS a war is to KILL AS MANY OF THE ENEMY AS POSSIBLE. How does she think we won WWII? How does she think we won WWI? How does she thing we won the American Revolution? How does she think wars are won?
As I have said on this blog in the past, wars are not “responsibly ended” or “gracefully withdrawn” or any other PC-wussy term that comes out of those without the fortitude or understanding of how wars are conducted.
So if Ms. Harf happens to come across this blog, let a 22 year retired Army Infantry 1SG educate her. Wars are won by killing so many people and/or destroying so many things that an enemy owns, they either surrender because they can’t stomach the fight or they are simply and completely wiped out.
That is what war is. It is ugly, it is gross, it is life-changing for all sides. However it is also inevitable on our planet. It is also, and should be, the very last course-of-action that any country takes.
I have to say it is very encouraging to see a real leader and warrior to stand up and talk about what is going wrong and how to correct it when it comes to our foreign policy.
Gen. Mattis, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, pulled no punches in criticizing policies and strategies ranging from confronting Chinese bullying in Asia and pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan to sharp defense cuts and putting women into combat roles.
The former four-star general, who held the Centcom post from 2010 until his retirement in 2013, said international order is breaking down and requires sustained American leadership to promote freedom. He called on America “to adapt to changing circumstances, to come out now from our reactive crouch and take a firm, strategic stance in defense of our values.”
I have written about this “Alive Day” several times over the years not this blog. This is a significant day to me and to my buddy Scooter. Scooter and I are bonded by this day and he never forgets me, nor do I him on this day. Today was very special as this morning he emailed me his Sworn Statement from that day. I must say it was pretty cool reading it again as it took me right back to that day. Not that I forgot it, but his sworn statement filled in small details that I had forgotten or didn’t even realize.
So in recognition of this anniversary, eight years later I am providing a copy of this sworn statement from my “Partner in Crime”, Scooter. I have modified the names to protect identities of all those mentioned in this statement, to include trimming mine down to just “1SG S.” for ease of reading.
8 September 2006
On or about 8 September 2006, while assigned as the Field Artillery Advisor in 4-2-203 Corps (ANA), MAJ B. (TC), CPT L. (passenger), 1SG S. (driver), and myself (M240B gunner) were returning from Operation PIR KOWTI in vic Orgun-E, Paktika Province, Afghanistan in a convoy of approximately 16 U.S. and ANA vehicles.
Our vehicle was in the middle of the convoy. After approximately an hour into the drive, in the rocky hills, we were going around a curve. 1SG S. accelerated around the curve as a TTP for deterring IEDs. Once we cleared the curve, there was a very loud explosion about 15-20 meters behind our truck that sent smoke, dust, and shrapnel beyond our truck. I immediately ducked into the gunner’s hatch upon hearing the sound and 1SG S. was yelling to see if I was alright.
I was not injured and told him I was OK. I stood up again and looked back, only to see the continuation of the smoke and dust cloud. There was a sound of automatic gun fire and we thought there might be an ambush, so I went “red” on the M204B and was scanning, looking for the trigger man. After driving for another 50-75 meters and not seeing the vehicle behind us, 1SG S. turned the vehicle around. We drove back to the IED site and stopped short by approximately 25 meters. There was still a slight dust in the air and I saw a body in the road and a destroyed ANA Ford Ranger (LTV) on the side of the road, on the other side of a large rock.
The LTV was upside down, pointing the opposite direction, and the vehicle itself was twisted. The occupants were the ANA Bde CSM, the Operations SGM, and two others. The convoy behind us had stopped and (according to a radio transmission) saw the trigger man, attempted to engage with their M2, and had several US Soldiers and ANA Soldiers attempting to chase down the man. The man had escaped to an awaiting truck on another “road” and departed at a high rate of speed north. Meanwhile, 1SG S. got out of the vehicle to assess the situation and determined that there were additional personnel trapped in the vehicle.
I continued to man the M240B for security and the lead US element had arrived at our location with COL A., MAJ M., CSM S., and the ANA Brigade Commander. MAJ M. and COL A. immediately started to perform Combat Lifesaving skills on the victims. 1SG S. was trying to gain radio contact was having trouble due to the ECM and our location in the rolling hills. 1SG S. managed to gain contact with an MBITR radio with a portable satellite antenna to send a SPOT report to our headquarters in Sharana (ETT) and to the Catamount (10MNT) headquarters in Orgun-E. After MAJ B. and COL A. identified seriousness of the casualties, 1SG S. sent a 9-Line MEDAVAC request. CPT L. was asked by 1SG S. to assist the ANA to provide 360 security.
While 1SG S. was getting ready for the MEDAVAC, I monitored the radios and provided some clarification on the request. COL A. and MAJ M. continued providing medical attention with the ANA medics on the casualties, while MAJ B. and 1SG S. were preparing for the MEDAVAC and attempting to gain control of the overall situation. Within 20 minutes, a Blackhawk MEDAVAC arrived with an Apache escort. I contacted the MEDAVAC and confirmed the smoke color of the HLZ. I also contacted the Apache to describe the getaway vehicle of the trigger man. After the casualties were evacuated (with two Blackhawks), it was determined that there might be a secondary device located in the road and EOD from FOB Sharana was contacted. The ETTs and ANA started to clean up the papers blown by the helicopter and taking pictures of the scene. After some time, the EOD arrived, they conducted their own assessment of the area and they placed multiple charges in the road to detonate any secondary devices. After determining the area was clear, a refuse truck evacuated the destroyed LTV. Once the vehicle was removed and the area was policed, the convoy continued with the mission to return to Sharana.
It was later determined, by the ECM contractor that the trigger man was attempting to make contact with our U.S. vehicle; however, our ECM delayed the explosion and detonated on the LTV (with the Bde CSM) that was tailgating our truck right outside of our “bubble”.
This used to be a 4-door Ford Ranger pickup with 4 occupants. Amazingly two survived with major injuries
[Author’s note: Politics and power are a game of strategy and board position. Master’s of the game maneuver like a military tactician in war, making use of information and events as their weapon of choice. The ambush is a tactic used by the best of the game masters, leveraging surprise, intensity, and timing to overwhelm an adversary and create opportunity. It is an event that forces the unsuspecting to be consumed within the moment as focus shifts to the immediate threat and survival instincts take over to preserve personal and emotional cohesion. The more intense the ambush, the greater the potential to create an effective distraction from the larger strategic objectives. Bergdahl’s release can be viewed in this manner. What follows is a perspective of the Bergdahl release from Taliban control through a lens of information strategies and influence. The views are the authors alone.]
The emotion around the release of Bergdahl from Taliban control has created a maelstrom of public reaction. This is a divisive issue that has pitted a war-tired Americana that is ready to put the past thirteen years to bed against an America looking for purpose and meaning for the personal and financial costs that have been paid post 9-11. As issues go, there are few that can cause such an up-swell of open hostility as those that drive a wedge between traditional values and reformist ideologies. Trying to make sense of the events is almost impossible. The emotions and ideological triggers are so deep with the Bergdahl incident that we all become blinded to some degree; turning to trench warfare and the limited perspective of the battlefield that such fighting permits. Those providing “first-hand accounts” of the events become subject to “proof” or accusations of “hearsay.” Supporting the Bergdahl release becomes a bipolar discussion of “activist progressive agendas” versus “conservative right anti-administration motivations.” For those adventurous enough to draw conclusions from the events the response is a variation of binary outcomes that pit “apologists” against “conspiracy nut-jobs.” The bottom line is that the Bergdahl issue has become a cultural labyrinth where escape is lost to the invisible walls of power, deceit and manipulation.
Politics is business and business is politics. Politics is also metaphor on a grand stage with an elected and appointed cast scripting events for an audience we call citizens. No decision is ever made without an assessment of risk and nothing helps more than a good drama to keep the audience engaged. As like the Romans, “Bread and Circus.” Setting the emotions of Bergdahl aside, his return to public view is another serial in the ever-evolving genre of reality TV. His debut for the Game Masters represents viewership numbers, ratings, advertisement revenues and political fund-raising opportunities. For the audience, it is a drama that stirs personal emotions, providing a level of entertainment of the highest order… for unlike other reality TV events, Bergdahl has the best of story built-in: it’s true and it’s personal.
In the arena of politics-as-business an event such as Bergdahl is more than useful – it is strategic. While Americans love good stories, they also demand several key elements for its success: 1) a villain or great evil; 2) a story that allows for some form of armchair quarterbacking; 3) something that is polarizing; and 4) the ability to point the finger at “the other guy” as validation for our own personal beliefs. That last point is essential for we are each of us more rightfully “American” than those that we disagree with. Once crafted, this ideal story captivates the audience, embroils and entrenches belief structures, and galvanizes rifts between people, both friends and strangers. It is the foundation of great political manipulation.
For the audience, the concerns and focus are rooted in various codes and ethics. Those that see Bergdahl as guilty reference a litany of first hand accounts and observations establishing his intent to desert and join the enemy; those that embrace his return frame their arguments in terms of forgiveness and an apparent penance that he has had to endure under the hands of his would be captors. Both sides seek to establish an unequivocal truth. It is an unwilling game that the various factions are enlisted in as part of the bigger game created by the political Game Masters. It is a game played not for pieces but for future board positions, reputations and power. While the audience waits eagerly for the next installment of the series, the scriptwriters have already completed this season’s outcome and have begun to craft the next season’s drama.
The Bergdahl event was not miscalculated, nor was any step along the way overlooked. There was a bit of luck involved as with all great performances, but the luck was generated from the mastery of the craft from which the event was born. Consider the act of releasing the prisoners without Congressional approval. Our beloved villains of GITMO were set free to once again reinvigorate the narrative of fear. The Congress has proven itself so dysfunctional that outcomes were easily anticipated: public condemnation, political polarization, and the foreknowledge that there would be little to no consequence or accountability… and of course no matter what is said, a finger would be pointed to establish fault with the Republicans. The script is predictable. All that was needed for the audience to bite was to change a few of the characters and re-sequence some of the events.
Move the story along to the announcement of Bergdahl’s release on the White House lawn with Bergdahl’s parents present. Bergdahl’s father is well known for his anti-American statements. What better character to introduce than a Pashtun speaking hater of the State that is now standing beside the Commander and Chief. For the supporters of Bergdahl it is a foreshadowing of forgiveness and the symbolic return of a lost sheep into the fold; for those standing against Bergdahl it is a bold statement that duty and honor are no longer defined by military service but to values somehow greater than all of us… love for our children. The Pashtun improv was a fanatic bit of comedic timing, effectively driving the wedge deeper between the polarizing sides and speaking to that greater polemic of “we forgive our enemies.” And let us not forgot the removal of “Dad’s” Tweets… likely a little Secret Service quick cleansing as part of the cost of admission to be in the show.
Then there is the dark past of Bergdahl. Did or did he not desert his unit? Can we prove it? Does it even matter now that he has been with an “enemy” for five years? Yes, that same enemy we gave a happy wave and a smile to as we escorted Bergdahl onto the helicopter with little more that a friendly pat down for explosives, fully aware that the images of the Special Operations team would be in the frame of the video the former Taliban captors were filming. We call that guilty by association; yet another master move by the political machine. The message to the domestic audience is that “we are all in this together”; for the Taliban they are able to show that America’s most lethal asset has now been brought to its knees and compliant to the Taliban demands. The game advances, the debate elevates, and the distraction takes a deeper hold into our daily lives.
As the story unfolds, the narratives back home begin to shift almost immediately. From the opening declaration that we were welcoming home a “hero”, the message is quickly revised as soon as the public outcry begins. The narrative transforms to things like “Unfair… I was a SGT and I can’t judge…”, to “we were unaware of his past…” or “it is too early to get into this…” to “I was tortured while in Taliban hands.” The political maneuvering is not only brilliant, it is strides ahead of the audience’s consumption and digestion of the emotions of the event. As the ire builds, the target of the outrage continues to adjust course, moving away from the policto’s to something ever more substantive: the Pentagon and the Army top brass. After all it was their fault this all came to be, right? Never mind that what part politicians have played. When information is involved as the instrument of war, the only thing that matters is perception. Truth is one of those antiquated concepts that just gets in the way. The ratings soar. Our story just won an Emmy for best production and cast.
There is no greater fear for those in politics than accountability. After all, it’s a dirty job, with long thankless hours, stardom, and difficulties mastering scripts and roles for the daily productions of civic soap operas the American public demands. If the audience ratings fall, job security goes with it. Worse, when the audience begins to question the acting, and turns their attention to a competing show, say for example, the military, the political types now face a crisis of control and power. A production like Bergdahl offers its producers opportunity to not only win back fans, but to also create a competing drama that their production can manipulate. Fueling the audience’s conflict between faith and anger with the US military assumes a natural shift in the storyline. As with the Bergdahl show, the new accusations are a built-for-realty TV script that offer the hook for the viewer of being once again personal and true. Mix in a few suggested sprinkles of “cover-up” and “scandal” and viewer ratings for the Bergdahl show soar. It no longer becomes a question of a pilot episode or one-season run, but of several years plus spin-offs. Best of all, that fear for accountability looming in over the head of the public servant is now resolved, taking the political type off the hook.
With a government increasingly accountable only to itself, the act of pillaging its citizens through taxation and regulation to grow power and personal agendas has evolved to high art form. For the political types there remains one outlier of concern: loss of control. With Thailand and all of its sex tourism industry now under military rule, that fear has now manifest within a friendly state into a very real nightmare. One only needs to look under the bed of any political type to find the most read chapter in their coveted book of horrors. Could it happen here? The likely candidate for such an engaging reality show would be the military. After all, they have all of the toys for the finest special effects and action sequences. They have a “cool guy” factor that leaves every political type in envy. They have a loyal audience base, and a public creditability factor that far outpaces that of anyone working on the Hill. All of that translates to ratings that can turn a TV reality series into a Hollywood multi-screen cinematic production. That’s where the Bergdahl show wins again… an Oscar level performance that places our entire military at odds with both itself and the citizens, pitting those themes of honor, duty, and brotherhood against forgiveness, progressive America and its own credibility. Checkmate.
As the story’s climax builds we witness a drama unfold that pushes both its actors and the audience to that uneasy edge of the seat. What will happen next? What will we do if…? What does all of this mean…? Who can I trust? The story plays out as predictable. Sales of prepping supplies, guns and ammo grow. A “new” America is pitted against an America increasingly viewed as obsolete and even ignorant. People are pitted against people, neighbor against neighbor. The distraction is now complete. Back on the Hill, the Pentagon budgets get placed under the axe again, DHS continues its expansion to protect us from the ever-growing threat of “domestic terror”’ and we are reminded of the dangers of living our daily lives in the “land of free.” (Here is where we remind the audience of those five evils we “had to give away” from the bowels of GITMO.) The Legislative branch, consumed with bipartisan agendas, continues its cycle of accuse or defend while accomplishing little. The prisoner exchange has provided the public with yet another example of their current ineptitude. The Judicial stays clear of the fight; “this is not an issue for the courts at this time.” Finally a new protagonist arises from the chaos… The Executive Order, which now reigns supreme.
All the while, the Bergdahl show keeps us captivated as we lose interest in all but our work, our day-to-day, and the many drama’s we cannot control. Quietly the board is cleared and the game set to begin anew as the series plays out towards a predictable end. As for impeachment, that show will be launched by the Republicans. It won’t get more than a pilot run.
About the author:
Scott Kesterson is founder and CEO of Spatial Terra, LLC, a firm focused on strategies for pro-active risk mitigation, market entry and strategic positioning. Kesterson spent over 3.5 years in Afghanistan working at village level as a documentary filmmaker, and later a cultural advisor to various Special Operations elements. He was a regular blogger for Huffington Post during his embeds of 2006-2008. He was award an Emmy in 2007 for best photography for combat footage filmed in Sangine, Afghanistan, and was nominated for a Peabody in 2008. Kesterson’s three part film series, Bards of War, analyzing the narrative of war from the soldiers perspective in currently in post-production.
Bouhammer Note- I have known of this complete story for five years. However I could not come public with it or ask my sources to even allow me to take it public. One of my sources who goes by the nickname Raven-Wolf, who was and is very connected and was on the ground at the time Bergdahl went missing shared this information with me in great detail in the last 24 hours. Now that Bergdahl is safely in US possession, Raven-Wolf felt it was time to let people know the truth. What you read in this post is completely first-hand and factual.
I am glad for his family that Bergdahl is home, however I am disappointed in the actions of his father recently (I will write about this more later). I am sure they love their son very much and am glad to have him back safe. However this young man made very bad decisions, and must be held accountable for them, in my opinion.
There is a lot on the internet right now from many other first-hand accounts by people that were in his unit. Now you can read a little behind the scenes about how we could have gotten him back within days, if not weeks, had it not been for arrogance and pride.
It was June 2009. I was working off the grid in and around South-Eastern Afghanistan. I had built a very effective Afghan network: local elders, merchants, NDS commanders, Afghan Army CI, etc. Word came down that a soldier from the 501st INF had gone AWOL. The name of the soldier was quickly known: Bowe Bergdahl.
Within hours of the reported “DUSTWUN” (Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown) the RC-East Commander initiated a total gag order, preventing any Army unit or Embedded Training Team (ETT) / Police Mentor Team (PMT) team from sharing intelligence with the Afghans. His order was based on his command’s stated belief that the Afghans were complicit in the taking of Bergdahl. The actual motivations came out later in private meetings behind closed doors: he wanted to protect his chances for promotion to O-7 (One Star General).
The Commander’s order didn’t affect me, and I frankly had little care for being involved in the search for someone as obviously stupid as this kid. My feelings, bluntly, were that Darwin’s laws should be let to play out and the Taliban’s desires to turn young boys into sex puppets was this kids earned destiny.
Almost immediately the rumor mill was in full swing. I returned to my Area of Operations (AO) and stayed to my own business. Nothing was flying or moving unless it was part of the search. So I took some days to read, catch up on emails and listen to the chatter in the mess hall as I sucked down my cups of bad coffee and powdered creamer. Mid-way through the second week I ran into one of the PMT mentors. He was furious about having to deal with the gag order; rightfully describing how the lack of sharing was undermining his teams relationship and trust with the Afghan Police units they were mentoring. His frustration got to me; it pissed me off to be more to the point. I knew this kid Bergdahl could be found. Not through the might of every US military asset in Eastern Afghanistan, but through tribal connections and traditional ways of doing business in Afghanistan…something Regular Army commanders never understood. I left the encounter with the PMT mentor, returned to my AO and walked into my Colonel’s office.
“I will make you a bet I can locate this kid in a week.” He looked at me and said nothing. He knew how I worked and I walked out.
I began by walking into the office of an Afghan Intelligence Officer I knew. He greeted me as always; welcomed me in and offered me Chai. We had not seen each other for well over a month. We shared stories, we discussed insurgent tactics, new TTPs, his family, my travels. Then I asked him the question I had come for, “Colonel…where’s our boy?” He looked at me and just stared back. Then he said, “You don’t want to know.”
I was taken aback and frankly irritated. I had had enough of the games over this kid’s search. “What do you mean I don’t want to know! We are friends; we have been friends a long time. Your answer is not good enough.” The Colonel then went on to explain to me how he had offered his support to find Bergdahl. However, the American Army mentors told him they weren’t interested; that they had everything under control.
I reminded him I wasn’t them and that I could frankly give a shit what his Army mentors were or were not interested in. “Help me find him. You and I both know this cannot be done without Afghan intelligence. You and I know that regardless of how stupid this kid is, he needs to be brought home.”
He sat down at his desk and made a call as he scribbled a few notes on a piece of white paper. He then got up from his desk, walked across the room and sat down in front of a dusty computer at the back. A few keystrokes later, he added a few more notes to the paper, walked over towards me and handed me what he had written.
“These are the names of the villages and GPS coordinates where your boy was the past three nights.”
I thanked him and took the information back to my Colonel. I told him what was on the paper. He took it with a bit of suspicion, but stated that he would be sending it up to the Special Operations Task Force 373. Later that night he called me into his office.
“I don’t know where you are getting your information but keep in coming. They like what you have.”
Over the next few days I expanded my information gathering to include NDS, Afghan CI, and locals. The Afghans continued to provide details on location, how Bergdahl was traveling, what he was wearing, and his state of mind. The picture continued to grow and the picture was one of a kid that had willingly left his post, deserted his brothers and his commitment to the US Army and our country. Bergdahl was described as dressed in local dress. He was riding around on the back of motorcycles hugging his Afghan captors. He was not in chains or in handcuffs, but willingly moving about to avoid detection. He needed to be retrieved…not to save him, but to punish him for his betrayal.
The details around Bergdahl’s decision to walk off of his FOB (Forward Operating Base) to explore the wilds of Afghanistan were locked down almost immediately. Even journalists were restricted from access; being denied interviews, field movement or access to anyone with any knowledge of Bergdahl or of his unit. Keeping the lid on the story was the number one command objective. But I dug and I found details. Though I still have this part of the story listed as “unconfirmed” this is what I put together:
Bergdahl was unstable the minute he arrived in country. He was unhappy, disconnected from the unit, and dissatisfied with the way his unit had dealt with several incidents. He had illusions of grandeur, talking about getting back to nature. He also had a romanticized ideal of himself as some sort of one man Rambo as well as a love affair with the Afghan indigenous fighter (aka Taliban). Rumors of what happened ranged from his unit running over a child to Bergdahl slowly coming unglued. He had all of the signs of being high risk. There was never any one story that was consistently told about the cause and effect. Both his unit and his command were protective and defensive… obvious signs of hiding something. What was more than clear is that Bergdahl, his unit and his command were a train wreck. As for Bergdahl specifically, his background should have been an early warning that something, anything, could easily set him off. Raised by a Northwest family that would be best described as off the grid, liberal tofu eaters, Bergdahl was homeschooled and raised to be a kind and sensitive child. He learned ballet, and enjoyed long walks in nature. He was almost a modern day young Emerson. When he turned of age he apparently felt he needed some adventure so he talked to a recruiter and fell in love with the “be all you can be” dream and joined the Army. Airborne was now his new meditation mantra and walks in the woods were replaced with forced marches and an 80-pound rucksack. To what should not have been a surprise to anyone, he did not work in well with his unit. Maybe it was the ballet, maybe it was his sensitive nature now imprisoned by his sworn duty to kill the bastards who celebrated the deaths of over 3000 Americans killed on 9-11. Whatever his reasons, when the moment arrived that he decided he was no longer interested in his obligation, his “free spirit”spoke as he grabbed his sketchbook and some water and walked off of the FOB. He was AWOL. Nothing more to it than that.
At the end of my seventh day or so of working this problem, I returned to the office of the Afghan Intelligence Colonel. Over another round of Chai and information exchange, I pressed him to leverage his network to set up a meet with the tribe that was holding Bergdahl. By this time the profile of Bergdahl’s captors was becoming clear. Where Bergdahl played out a version of a spoiled brat’s “walk about”, his captors saw opportunity. They had grievances with the local Governor. They wanted to use Bergdahl to get what they thought they deserved. This was the Afghan way.
During this time the rumors and reports from the US side were that Berdahl had been taken by Haqqani. That was not the case. His captors had sent out word to the Haqqani network asking for a reward, however the initial interest from Haqqani was cool to tepid at best. Their concern was that Bergdahl was mentally unstable; and even though Bergdahl had voluntarily converted to Islam, the Haqqani network was not willing to bring a mentally unstable Muslim convert over the border into Pakistan. We should have paid attention to Haqqani.
I sat with the Afghan Colonel and we went over the tape that had been released of Bergdahl. We watched it a half dozen times. Other Afghan intelligence types entered the room. They dissected the images…the weave on the bread that was shown in the video was only available in one particular village; the sound of the generators demonstrated a level of wealth; the pattern on the rugs provided insight into the owner and their taste; the food and the way it was served provided understanding of tribal habits and behaviors; the interviewer, his English intonation and his camera skills could only be of a select few people; and Bergdahl himself provided a wealth of clues from his dress, to his mannerisms, to his compliant attitude. The Colonel made some notes. The Afghan cadre discussed what they had seen. He felt sure he knew what village Bergdhal was in.
“I want to meet with the tribal leader who is holding him. Just me and my interpreter. I will travel in my own vehicle. No military. No guns. You can join me if you wish,” I told him.
The Colonel called a friend in Parliament. The discussion was brief. He hung up the phone and we waited. A few minutes later the phone rang; it was his Parliament friend again. The tribal leader had agreed to the meet. The location would be set the next day. The Afghan Colonel and I agreed to travel together. We parted, each of us setting about preparing our kit for the next morning.
The media blast that followed the Bergdahl video was what the RC-East Commander had hoped to avoid. The story was now out. Bergdahl who had been effectively a blip on the radar up to that point became an international star overnight. The elevation of status made him more valuable and Haqqani understood this. The following morning as I walked to the vehicle to meet up with the Afghan Colonel, he greeted me, still wearing his military dress. I knew something was off. He informed me that the meeting had been cancelled. Overnight Haqqani had dispatched a team with an undisclosed amount of cash and had taken control of Bergdahl. From that point forward the chances of getting him back were all but lost.
Over the next few years I made the occasional probes through my Afghan contacts about Bergdahl. The responses were always the same…he was with Haqqani. Some reports had him living happily in Haqqani’s large compound in Pakistan. Other reports told of him missing his family and regretting his decision to go AWOL. He was regularly reported being seen in the markets near the Haqqani compound, usually shopping on his own without restraints or guards.
Within many circles Bergdahl became more like an urban legend. Under GEN McChrystal a group was stood up called the Counter-insurgency Assessment Advisement Team, or CAAT for short. Early on there was one notable idiot by the name of Sean. A former 7th Special Forces Group guy, he and his tag-along buddy Tim promised to retrieve Bergdahl and bring fame and recognition to the CAAT. Naturally their grand plan never materialized. Bergdahl remained safely in the arms of Haqqani.
Near the end of GEN Petraeus’time I came across the Personnel Recovery group working to find Bergdahl. Outside of several highly covert units still tasked with finding the kid, this private contracted team was all that was left. We shared information, I reviewed their plans, and what was clear is that there wasn’t a plan. Bergdahl was Haqqani’s property until Haqqani decided otherwise. For me the issue was simple, Bergdahl wasn’t worth it.
This last year I sent out another query on Bergdahl. The response this time was similar, but a few things had changed. Unlike past queries, the information that came back was that the Haqqani group was tiring of Bergdahl. They were becoming concerned that they would be left holding him and not accomplish their goals of retrieving their brothers from US holding. The word was they were willing to negotiate. In true Pashtun fashion, however, they added a threat of killing Bergdahl if their demands weren’t met. My Afghan contacts told me they could make the meet happen. I passed. The risk to get this kid wasn’t worth it and by this time the United States government was well on its way to giving in to Haqqani to save face and win a few political points with the liberal mass of military haters back home.
The latest news of 5 GITMO detainee transfers for this kid’s life left me nauseated. From everything I was receiving, Haqqani never expected to get any of the prisoners, let alone 5 of some of the most highly valued targets we had in holding. The US negotiators had fallen for the bluff…the threat of killing the kid. No one ever asked the question of why Haqqani would kill Bergdahl suddenly now after keeping him alive for so many years. A typical political knee jerk reaction to a problem rooted in thousands of years of traditions and ways of doing deals. We got screwed and I suspect Haqqani is laughing his ass off at us from his compound in Pakistan.
The deal that has been made is a slap in the face to every American soldier alive and dead that has served this country with honor. Bowe Bergdahl is a traitor. He willingly left his post and his fellow soldiers to go on a spiritual stroll in Afghanistan, convert to Islam and ultimately join up with the Taliban…and in so doing cost us the lives of great soldiers who were tasked with finding him…just run the body count of how many died searching for him in 2009. Bergdahl wasn’t captured as the Army and media spin-doctors would want you to believe. He betrayed his country and should pay the price of incarceration at the least and death by hanging at the best.