Bergdahl faces US probe amid desertion claims

Army chief says former Taliban prisoner will be investigated over disappearance and subsequent capture in Afghanistan.

    Bergdahl is still in Germany recovering from five years in captivity [IntelCenter]
    Bergdahl is still in Germany recovering from five years in captivity [IntelCenter]

    The United States army has said it intends to investigate the circumstances of Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance in Afghanistan amid claims of his desertion, and anger from former comrades who risked their lives to search for him.

    John McHugh, the secretary of the US army, said on Tuesday that officials would interview Bergdahl about the circumstances of his disappearance in Afghanistan once completes a rehabilitation programme in Germany.

    "All other decisions will be made thereafter, and in accordance with appropriate regulations, policies and practices," said McHugh, indicating that he could face punishment based on his interviews.

    Bergdahl disappeared off his base in Afghanistan in 2009 after telling comrades he was disillusioned, and was captured by Taliban-aligned fighters.

    Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, said that several members of Bergdahl’s unit had complained in the past few days that they had risked their lives to find a man they considered a deserter.

    "One man has charged that at least six soldiers were killed while looking for Bergdahl. They are all upset that the Obama administration is celebrating the return of a man who should instead, they think, be court-martialed," Jordan said.

    "He’s not leaving the military right now, so he will have to report to a military base for his next assignment – and any possible disciplinary actions."

    'Walked away'

    Bergdahl was swapped for five high-ranking Taliban prisoners on Saturday, through a deal brokered by the Qatari government. The Taliban men are now in Qatar, where their movements are said to be restricted. 

    On Monday, an unnamed Pentagon official was quoted by the AP news agency as saying that Bergdahl walked away from his military unit before his capture on June 30, 2009 by the Taliban fighters.

    General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the AP news agency on Tuesday that the army investigation could lead to further action.

    There are a variety of offences related to an absence without proper approval, and a number of potential actions could be taken by the military.

    He could be tried by court martial for desertion He could be given a non-judicial punishment for a lesser charge, such as being away without leave. He could also be given credit for time already served while he was a prisoner.

    Critics of the Obama administration have meanwhile questioned the deal with the Taliban.

    "The administration has invited serious questions into how this exchange went down and the calculations the White House and relevant agencies made in moving forward without consulting Congress despite assurances it would re-engage with members on both sides of the aisle," John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, said on Tuesday.

    Boehner backed calls for congressional hearings on the decision to swap the prisoners.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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