The United States Army announced Monday that it had begun an investigation into Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance in Afghanistan.
Several members of Bergdahl’s platoon have branded him a deserter in recent weeks, asserting that he wandered away from his unit and that the ensuing manhunt led to the deaths of his fellow soldiers.
The New York Times reported earlier this month that Bergdahl had wandered away from his assigned post twice before his disappearance in 2009, which resulted in his five-year capture by the Taliban. A report last week in the Washington Post revealed that Bergdahl was discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006, two years before he enlisted in the Army.
The Army said in its statement Monday that the chief purpose of the investigation will be “to ascertain facts and report them to the appointing authority” and that Bergdahl’s “health and integration” remains the branch’s “top priority.”
“We ask that everyone respect the time and privacy necessary to accomplish the objectives of the last phase of reintegration,” the statement read. “The investigating officer will not interview Sgt. Bergdahl until the reintegration team clears such interaction, so no timeline for completion of the investigation has been set.”
Bergdahl returned to the U.S. last week after receiving treatment at a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany following a prisoner swap with the Taliban that secured his freedom.
Republicans and conservatives have been critical of both the swap and Bergdahl. Some have even directed their criticism at Bergdahl’s family.
During a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) questioned why Bergdahl hadn’t yet returned to the U.S., prompting a forceful pushback from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“Well, I don’t like the implication of the question,” Hagel told Miller during the hearing. “He’s being held there because our medical professionals don’t believe he’s ready until they believe he is ready to take the next step.”
The administration has consistently said that the Army will investigate the circumstances surrounding Bergdahl’s disappearance, stressing the importance of due process.
Days after Bergdahl was released, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said in a statement that the “Army’s leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred.”
But many on the right have assailed the White House for its immediate celebration of Bergdahl, criticizing the Rose Garden ceremony involving President Obama and the soldier’s parents.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice, meanwhile, has drawn immense criticism for saying Bergdahl served with “honor and distinction.”
Rice and the administration defended her characterization and denounced critics who are trying Bergdahl in the “court of public opinion after having gone through enormously traumatic five years of captivity.”
The Army’s statement:
The Army has initiated its investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance and capture of Sgt. Bowe R. Bergdahl from Combat Outpost Mest-Lalak in Paktika Province, Afghanistan on or about June 30, 2009. The Army has appointed as the investigating officer Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, an Army officer with Afghanistan combat experience.
The primary function of this investigation, as in any other investigation, is to ascertain facts and report them to the appointing authority. These types of investigations are not uncommon and serve to establish the facts on the ground following an incident. The investigating officer will have access to previously gathered documentary evidence, including the 2009 investigation.
The Army’s top priority remains Sgt. Bergdahl’s health and reintegration. We ask that everyone respect the time and privacy necessary to accomplish the objectives of the last phase of reintegration. The investigating officer will not interview Sgt. Bergdahl until the reintegration team clears such interaction, so no timeline for completion of the investigation has been set.