Taliban May Free U.S. POW In Exchange For Senior Operatives

Jun 21, 2013
Originally published on June 21, 2013 6:11 pm
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The Taliban says it's ready to free an American POW in exchange for five of their senior operatives held at Guantanamo. The U.S. prisoner is Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. He's been a prisoner of war for nearly four years. He's the only known U.S. POW from the Afghan war. Bergdahl is from Hailey, Idaho. And Jessica Robinson of Public Radio's Northwest News Network is headed there today for events marking the fourth anniversary of his capture. Jessica, welcome.


BLOCK: Jessica, let's talk about the capture of Bowe Bergdahl. This was back on June 30th, 2009. I gather there are conflicting accounts of what happened.

ROBINSON: There are. It's not exactly clear. What's known is that after a guard shift he went missing. And so far, the military hasn't indicated what happened and only says that the investigation's ongoing and that that's all to be figured out after he comes home.

BLOCK: Where is Bowe Bergdahl believed to be held?

ROBINSON: Well, it's believed that he's now being held by the Haqqani network over across the Pakistani border.

BLOCK: Jessica, I want to play a little bit of tape here. This is a message sent by Bowe Bergdahl's parents back in March on their son's birthday.

BOB AND JENNY BERGDAHL: Happy birthday, Bowe Bergdahl.

BLOCK: And we're hearing Bob and Jenny Bergdahl. They're, of course, assuming their son would hear that message. And let's listen to a little bit more from the dad.

BOB BERGDAHL: You will come home. If you can hear this, rest assured. We are doing everything we can to bring you home. God bless you, my son. (Speaking foreign language) May the peace and blessings of God be upon you, my son. (Speaking foreign language) It should not surprise you that your father is speaking Pashtun, however poorly.

BLOCK: It's fascinating to listen to that. It sounds like the dad has immersed himself in the culture and language of Afghanistan.

ROBINSON: He has. He's trying to learn the language. He's studying Pashtun culture. He sees it as a connection to the life that his son has been leading in the last four years. Of course, little is known about what Bowe's life has been like, except a few propaganda videos that have been released by the Taliban. Bowe's father released a video about a year ago, where he made an appeal directly to Bowe's captors and spoke to them in Pashtun and asked them to take care of his son because he knows that while the Haqqani network is keeping his son captive, they're also the ones keeping him alive.

BLOCK: And is there any information about Bowe Bergdahl's condition?

ROBINSON: He appears to be well. There have been some indications from the Taliban of that anyway. He's appeared in videos looking thin and somewhat scared. Earlier this month, Bowe's parents received a handwritten letter from Bowe. It was relayed through the Red Cross. And it seemed to be heavily scripted by Bowe's captors, but it did indicate that Bowe was, at least, safe.

BLOCK: Jessica, you have spent time over these years in Hailey, Idaho. What do people there tell you about the kind of young man Bowe Bergdahl is and what his interests have been?

ROBINSON: The word that comes to mind is unconventional. Bowe wasn't exactly the typical profile of someone who joins the military. He didn't come from a military family. He grew up down a dirt road in a canyon outside of Hailey, off the grid for part of his growing up. And he seemed to be interested in traveling. He rode his bike long distances.

He's described as very adventurous, but at the same time, also very quiet and thoughtful.

BLOCK: And also, I've read he was a ballet dancer.

ROBINSON: He was a ballet dancer. I believe he danced in "The Nutcracker" and two years ago, when I first came to Hailey to talk to people who know him, they were very reluctant to say much about him. I reached out to his dance teacher and she declined to comment because at that point, people in Hailey knew that anything they said could be possibly used against him. And they were reluctant to put it out there that he had danced because they didn't know how that would make him perceived by his captors.

Since then, Hailey has opened up a lot and they've followed the lead of the parents, who have been talking more about their son and trying to get his name out there more.

BLOCK: That's Jessica Robinson with Public Radio's Northwest News Network. Jessica, thanks very much.

ROBINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.