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.
I was a tactical operations center chief when Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his firebase. The entire room held its breath as we read the message, an American soldier was missing. Phones were abuzz and video conferences under way as preparation for contingency operations to support the search were already underway. There would be no limit in the effort to determine the best way to support the search for the missing American.
It seemed like nearly everything came to an abrupt halt. If he was a lost American soldier, we needed to find him. Almost every available asset was diverted in an effort to find Bergdahl, to include the vast plethora of strategic assets, national ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) aircraft, Tier One SOF units and massive operations by the regular Army were shifted from the war fighting effort to assist in the search. We went thru all the available information to see how we could assist in the search. Even though he was missing in the East, we would do what we could from the South to help. It was not twenty four hours later that the circumstances surrounding his disappearance would be reported. It left everyone in the room shaking their head.
Now that he is safe, I am relieved and happy for him and his family. I can’t imagine being held by anyone, much less the Taliban, for five years. The only person I am aware of who can sympathize with this experience is Sen. John McCain. But, amid this short term happiness in securing Bergdahl’s freedom is the long term apprehension as a result. The Obama administration has opened Pandora’s Box by doing what we have sworn never to do, negotiate with terrorists. By making a unilateral decision to negotiate with terrorists, Obama has broken national policy and agreed to exchange Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders previously held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
What is the ultimate cost of making this unilateral decision to obtain Bergdahl’s release? It does not matter what side of the isle you fall on politically, this question is being asked amongst the inner circles. This is in no way like the decision to kill Bin Laden. Any grandmother in America would have said “Get him” and know that even if they missed, it could be said that at least he tried. I submit that this decision will have two impacts, one short term and one long term.
The first and short term consequence leaves me shaking my head, yet again. In regard to the release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, I have seen the results of these terrorists returning to the battlefield. There is no such thing as rehabilitation. They will return to their acts of terror and inhumanity until they themselves are finally killed. Almost 30 percent of the detainees released from Guantánamo Bay returned to fight, according to research by Thomas Joslin, an analyst for the Foundation for Defense for Democracies. I had to scoff when I read this. I do not have statistics to back up my opinion, only eight deployments to Afghanistan, but I will stand by the statement that I have never known of a detainee who does not return to the battlefield. Terrorists do not decide to go from making bombs to selling cars. It is not an occupational change.
Arizona Sen. John McCain told USA Today Saturday that Guantanamo detainees “are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands”. “I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners.” McCain said. I can answer this question for you Sen. McCain, nothing…Nothing at all.
There is no doubt that the five detainees that were released from Guantánamo will kill again. We are leaving a fragile Afghan government and military in Afghanistan to continue the fight, but we’ve now given the enemy five of their commanders, who will no doubt reignite the Taliban’s ideology, methodology, and ultimately, motivation. Their release signals that America will submit.
How much more American blood will be shed under attacks led by these terrorists or worse in trying to apprehend or kill these commanders in future combat operations? What will be the cost in future American lives when these terrorists returned to the battlefield and what future forces will face now knowing that America will negotiate with terrorists? Special operations forces continue to operate in Afghanistan and in over one hundred countries and are now a bigger target because terrorists now know the value of one American military hostage.
“While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground,” Obama said Saturday.
This comment makes one wonder whether he or his administration can actually digest the “challenges” that will arise from this decision. The ramifications of this decision are far reaching. But the long term and greatest danger will be the administration’s willingness to make a deal. It is no longer the perception of negotiation with America, but the actuality.
This is not going to be just about the military. As in Iraq, Terrorist networks will migrate towards capturing easier targets like civilians to accomplish their goals. What happens when terrorist sleeper cell take over a school, movie theater or church in the US? It has happened in Russia already. We are fighting an enemy that has no problem strapping bombs to their chests and detonating them in a market full of women and children. They readily pack cars and trucks full of explosives and convince their young men to drive these bombs into military and civilian targets.
What happens when Americans are captured in order to free terrorists held by our coalition partners? This list of horrific questions gets worse and worse. What will we do now that the president has opened Pandora’s box?
The results of President Barak Hussein Obama’s decision will likely haunt this country and be chiseled into tombstones long after we are gone.
MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.” www.lionsofkandahar.com
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.
Well it appears that our Brothers in Arms, the cousins from the North….Canada are now finished with their mission in Afghanistan.
Canada ended military operations in Afghanistan on Wednesday, ending a 12-year mission as the international community winds down its role in the country ahead of an end-of-year deadline for foreign combat operations to end.
The Canadians formally ended their combat role in southern Afghanistan in July 2011 but maintained a small training operation in Kabul.
“Canada played a critical role in securing Kandahar Province and had a strategic impact across the country with their contribution to the NATO training mission,” the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, said during a flag-lowering ceremony at the headquarters for international forces in Kabul.
The Canadian Army has performed superbly and was one of our best coalition partners in Afghanistan. They found shoulder to shoulder with many American Forces, including ETTs, Special Forces, Conventional Army forces, and my Guest Blogger, Rusty Bradley. They were concentrated in the south, commonly referred to as 205th Corps Sector. Canada also gave up it’s sons and daughters for the people of Afghanistan.
According to the Canadian government, 158 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors were killed in Afghanistan.
I guess this is just another sign that our mission is definitely coming to an end. I am curious if the USA will be the last ones left and have to turn out the lights on the way out.
BOUHAMMER NOTE- I am pleased to welcome my good friend, Major Rusty Bradley (ret) as a new Guest Blogger here on Bouhammer.com. A Career Special Forces soldier with multiple deployments and an accomplished author, Rusty is a great addition to the list of guest bloggers here on this site.
As policy makers look to trim the Defense budget, they should start by cutting the dead weight around the Special Forces community and stop spending millions to train soldiers that would fail to meet the old standards.
Special Forces live by five simple truths.
Humans are more important than Hardware.
Quality is better than Quantity.
Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced.
Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance
These “truths” act as our compass through the labyrinth of unconventional warfare. But for more than a decade, the Army special operations community has ignored the second, third and fourth truth creating a Special Forces regiment rife with soldiers who would not make the cut before Sept. 11, 2001.
Historically, the Special Forces – designated the Green Berets by John Kennedy – only accepted the most highly qualified and capable soldiers. The standards were never compromised for any reason because the extreme situations and environments where Special Forces soldiers operate require the best our country can produce.
But the demand for Special Forces teams after Sept. 11, 2001 far exceeded the supply. To meet the demand, standards were lowered, corners were cut and training pipeline started graduating substandard soldiers. Look at it from this perspective, imagine the surgeon operating on your child graduated medical school because he could maintain a “D” average or just did not quit. Would you want that him doing surgery on the person you love most in this world?
Green Berets are supposed to be the most diverse and adaptive soldiers on the battlefield. Trained to think and operate like guerillas/insurgents, they are capable of operating far behind enemy lines working with and training rebel forces. They can also train government troops in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense. Green Berets on horseback led the Northern Alliance to victory against the Taliban during the first years of the war in Afghanistan. Special Forces built and trained both the Afghan and Iraqi armies. On the African continent, Special Forces teams are helping Congolese troops fight the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony and in Colombia Special Forces teams trained soldiers to battle the FARC. Special Forces soldiers must be of the highest quality and caliber because that is exactly what your enemies will put against you.
In the summer of 2005, my Special Forces team was on patrol in northern Kandahar province. We were about to head into a valley where we were frequently ambushed by the Taliban. My team sergeant wanted to test fire the machine guns on our vehicles since we’d had to hastily leave for the patrol. We found a large vertical rock and used that as the target. My gunner was told to fire a short burst. I was in the lead truck and my gunner was a new sergeant who had just graduated from the Special Forces qualification course.
I gave the order to fire and stuck my fingers in my ears to muffle the thunderous boom of the .50 caliber machine gun. Click. Nothing happened. The new sergeant left a piece of the weapon back at the base camp. The gun was useless. The maintenance of weapons is a basic soldier skill, and the new sergeant failed. I found out later, he was part of a number of soldiers who had been allowed to enter the organization as long as they did not “quit.”
That was my first experience with the “new” Special Forces soldier. When I returned to Fort Bragg, I was horrified to learn that the standards had been dropped and would not be raised again because of the expansion of Special Forces. Every group was getting a fourth battalion and commanders needed bodies.
These less than qualified soldiers account for ninety percent of the problems in the command. I can think of at least half dozen cases where soldiers that would not have been selected are now getting charged with crimes ranging from drunk driving to theft. This kind of misconduct is an issue Army wide.
The Associated Press reported in February “enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.” The general officer corp has its own share of scandals from Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward’s unauthorized spending, sexual misconduct charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, and other episodes of gambling and drinking, according to the Associated Press. The Special Forces community is not immune to “big Army” problems. The issues are just more acute in our smaller community unless standards are upheld.
The problem won’t correct itself, but any objections to the lowering standards are considered non-compliance and is used as cause to deny promotion or schools for professional development to those blowing the whistle. Commanders and policy makers have forgotten how to object or say the word “no” anymore, even if it is detrimental to the force and ultimately the soldiers doing the job.
I’m saying no.
Our country deserves better than what we are giving and what they are getting. We must turn this trend around and get it back on a path to success or there will be fewer and fewer victories at the cost of more and more American lives. As a leader, I didn’t expect my soldiers to do things I would not do myself. You cannot hope for change, you must make it happen. Commanders need to establish higher standards for every candidate – man or woman – and purge the ranks of soldiers that no longer exemplify what it means to be a Green Beret. Cutting the dead weight will be painful at first as there are fewer soldiers to do more work, but it will leave the ranks filled with the best soldiers. If more soldiers, veterans and commanders do not begin to stand their ground and force this great country back on course, we face losing what we all hold most dear.
MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.” www.lionsofkandahar.com
This video is making the rounds on the internet right now, and I wanted to share it here with some commentary. It shows a combat outpost in Paktika province (my old stomping ground) getting “accidentally hit by one of our own aircraft’s 500lb bombs.
There are several key things about this video I wanted to point out. The first is for those that think women “deserve” or “belong” in the infantry. I am not sure if this is an Infantry or Cavalry unit, but it does not matter. You can tell from this video and from movies like Restrepo this is no place for a female. Not now, NOT EVER.
Second is this is what it means to be living at the tip of the spear. There is no Green Bean’s Coffee house, Flour or KBR cooks, or PX. This is an outpost built with sandbags, hescos, 2x4s and plywood. This is the home for these guys. Not everyone lives like this, and in fact I would say 98% of those overseas don’t live like this for their entire tour. Sometimes soldiers go in and out of this type of place every few weeks or months. I mean they have to get a decent shower sometime don’t they?
Lastly I would like to point out that the First Sergeant (1SG) is credited with saving lives in the story accompanying this video. If you read it at http://www.armytimes.com/article/20140218/NEWS/302180020/Video-500-pound-friendly-bomb-dropped-too-close-soldiers-Afghanistan you will see they state the 1SG knew this airstrike was going to happen and made everyone get into what we call “stand to”, which means everyone at the ready, in their fighting positions with all their protective gear on. I am sure some guys bitched and cried as they were forced to get out of bed and go get in their fighting positions, but I bet they were glad they have the 1SG they do afterwards. This is a prime example of “hard right” vs. the “easy wrong”.
This is beyond sad, this is despicable. How are we supposed put trust into the leaders that the Administration have put in charge of the efforts in Afghanistan if they are not capable of answer simple questions to Congress that they, of anyone, should know.
How many American troops have been killed in Afghanistan this year?
None of the witnesses at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Afghanistan had an answer.
How much is the U.S. spending in Afghanistan? Mr. Rohrabacher asked.
No one could say.
“We’re supposed to believe that you fellas have a plan that’s going to end up in a positive way in Afghanistan?” Mr. Rohrabacher asked. “Holy cow!”
Mr. Rohrabacher’s incredulous questioning came during a two-hour hearing on U.S. policy in Afghanistan that revealed increasing congressional frustration with U.S. policy as the administration tries to rescue its plan to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan through the end of this decade, if not beyond.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D., Va.) called the witnesses’ inability to rattle off the facts “a stunning development.”
“How can you come to a congressional oversight hearing on this subject and not know” the answers? He asked. “Like that wouldn’t be a question the tip of one’s tongue.”
If they were leaders of a company, they would be fired.
If they were leaders of a military unit, they would be relieved of command.
If they were elected representatives, they would probably be voted out of office.
The administration needs to quit helping out its cronies or anyone it can find to fill positions, and start putting in qualified personnel into key positions. It is almost like they are on a co-ed D-league softball team and they look to the stands to find anyone they can to fill an outfield position.
The idea that U.S. officials didn’t have basic facts about the war in Afghanistan on the tips of their tongues seemed apt for a conflict that has fallen off the radar in Washington, where battles over the budget, President Barack Obama’s health care program and talks with Iran have eclipsed interest in America’s longest war as it winds to a close.
That just goes to show you that either the press makes news by just guessing stuff, their inside “sources” are full of crap, or the DoD is good at “leaking” stuff to them to keep them thrown off the trail and they fall for it all the time.
Should we be there beyond 2014? Personally I say no, at least not chasing bad guys and trying to help dig wells and build schools. However we SHOULD try to establish our foothold in the region and keep some type of presence there. We still have troops in Japan, S. Korea, Germany and Italy don’t we? The administration lost its ability to negotiate a foothold in Iraq so I really hope they don’t screw this up and lose a military presence in this critical location in the world.
The Afghan Security Forces are long overdue on stepping up and TRULY taking the reins themselves, this should have happened years ago. So we don’t need to be coddling them, but we need to keep some space there to serve as a jumping-off or staging location just in case we ever need to get back into that part of the globe and straighten things out.
The Bouhammer [boo-ham-er] blog is owned by a 22-year Retired Army First Sergeant. It is now one of the leading and award-winning blogs written primarily on operations in Afghanistan and other military related topics. This blog also focuses on foreign policy, national security and politics. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy what you see. Click Here to Contact Bouhammer
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