Waiting goes on for U.S. POW captured in Afghanistan
An empty chair on display at a Veterans Day ceremony in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Monday symbolized the costs military families face when loved ones have been killed or declared missing in action.
The chair represented Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 26, the sole U.S. prisoner of the war in Afghanistan.
A native of Sun Valley, Idaho, Sgt. Bergdahl was captured by the Taliban in 2009 while serving as an infantryman. In exchange for his freedom, the Taliban have demanded $1 million and the release of Taliban militants at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Earlier this year, U.S. officials and Taliban representatives were reported widely to have been in discussions to swap prisoners, but the effort was shelved. Sgt. Bergdahl also attempted to escape but was recaptured.
A source close to his parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, said they are thankful to know he is alive and are waiting to hear from the White House about what officials expect to do to free him.
The source, who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the matter, said the family has been in a “giant waiting game, like so many active-duty family members.”
It was “unbearable” for them that the Afghan War was not a bigger part of the presidential election, the source said.
“It’s hard to bear. This is the price that is paid by a nation that goes to war,” the source said.
“[They wonder] what is our policy? What is our strategy? What’s the timetable? [They] feel kind of abandoned by the public and by a lot of what goes on in Washington.”
Artie Muller, founder and executive director of Rolling Thunder, which promotes full accountability for prisoners of war and troops missing in action, accused the government of doing too little to recover Sgt. Bergdahl and three missing contractors from the Afghanistan War.
“They released some of the prisoners that we have in Guantanamo Bay and gave them back. Well, why did we give them back if you’re not giving our guy back?” he argued.
Over the past decade, the Defense Department has begun to increase the success of recovering remains of fallen service members thanks to improving DNA identification technology, but Mr. Muller said the Pentagon must do more to find the ones who still might be alive.
“Some of them were still left behind. Well, did they die? Are they still being held?” Mr. Muller asked.
More than 83,000 Americans have been declared missing from World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. James Gregory said, “Our hearts go out to the Bergdahl family and friends.
“We will not discuss the detail of our efforts, but there should be no doubt that we work every day — using all our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools — to try to get Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely.”
An undated photo shows Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 26, of Ketchum, Idaho, at least three years ago. The Pentagon confirmed in July 2009 that Sgt. Bergdahl, then a private, had been captured while serving in Afghanistan.