HAILEY, Idaho — A soldier from Idaho who disappeared from his base in Afghanistan has been captured, the Pentagon confirmed Sunday, a day after he was seen in a Taliban video posted online.
The Defense Department released the name of Pfc. Bowe (pronounced BOH) R. Bergdahl, 23, who was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment. The private was serving at a base near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold.
The 28-minute video, in which Bergdahl said he was “scared I won’t be able to go home,” provided the first public glimpse of the missing American. He said in the video he was lagging behind a patrol when he was captured, which conflicts earlier military accounts that indicated he left the base with three Afghans. The Pentagon gave no details of the kidnapping.
It wasn’t clear who initially captured Bergdahl, but the U.S. command in Afghanistan said he was being held by the Taliban and condemned the video as a violation of international law.
“I’m glad to see he appears unharmed, but again, this is a Taliban propaganda video,” spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker said. “They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law.”
Bob Bergdahl, the soldier’s father, told the AP that the family was requesting media respect their privacy.
“We hope and pray for our son’s safe return to his comrades and then to our family, and we appreciate all the support and expressions of sympathy shown to us by our family members, our friends and others across the nation,” Bob Bergdahl said in a statement issued through the Department of Defense. “Thank you, and please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers.”
On the video, which was posted on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban, Bergdahl says he’s from Hailey, Idaho, a town of about 7,000 people that lies 160 miles east of Boise. The Pentagon identified his hometown as Ketchum, which is about half the size of Hailey and about 12 miles north.
Bergdahl is a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
He entered the Army in June 2008 and went through basic training in Fort Benning, Ga., said Lt. Col. Jonathan Allen, spokesman for Fort Richardson. Bergdahl also took advanced individual and parachute training in Georgia. Bergdahl reported for duty in Alaska in October and deployed to Afghanistan in February.
Before enlisting, Bergdahl worked as a barista at a coffee shop in Hailey, Zaney’s River Street Coffee House, where a sign on the counter encouraged patrons to keep Bergdahl in their thoughts and prayers.
“Join all of us at Zaney’s holding light for our friend Bowe Bergdahl. Bowe has been captured in Afghanistan,” the sign said.
A similar message posted July 8 on the coffee shop’s Face-book page suggests many in the town have known for some time Bergdahl was in danger. Friends and former co-workers at the coffee shop declined to speak on the record Sunday to an AP reporter, saying they were abiding by the Bergdahl family’s wishes for privacy.
One of the directors of the Sun Valley Ballet School in Ketchum said Bergdahl performed with the group for four or five years up to about 2008.
In the video, Bergdahl had his head shaved and was seen with the start of a beard. He was sitting and dressed in a nondescript, gray outfit. Early in the video one captor held the soldier’s dog tag up to the camera. His name and ID number were clearly visible. He was shown eating at one point and sitting cross-legged.
He said the date was July 14; it’s clear the video was made no earlier because Bergdahl repeated an exaggerated Taliban claim about a Ukrainian helicopter that was shot down that day.
He was interviewed in English by his captors. He was asked his views on the war, which he called extremely hard; his desire to learn more about Islam; and the morale of American soldiers, which he said was low.
Asked how he was doing, the soldier said: “Well I’m scared, scared I won’t be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner.”
He later choked up when discussing his family and his girlfriend.
“I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America. And I miss them every day when I’m gone,” he said.
He was prompted by his interrogators to give a message to the American people.
“To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it’s like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home,” he said. “Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country.”
Congregants at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise prayed for Bergdahl Sunday morning, and Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who attends the church, told the AP that he had been working to keep the soldier’s name quiet until it was officially released.
Otter said he’d been in contact with representatives of Bergdahl’s family, but hasn’t been part of any efforts to secure the soldier’s release. “I’m sure we’ll do whatever we’re asked to do,” Otter said of Idaho leaders.
The circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture weren’t clear.
On July 2, two U.S. officials told the AP the soldier had “just walked off” his base with three Afghans after his shift. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
On July 6, the Taliban claimed on their Web site that five days earlier “a drunken American soldier had come out of his garrison” and was captured by mujahedeen.
Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors.
Afghans in contact with the Taliban told the AP that the soldier was held by a Taliban group led by a commander called Maulvi Sangin. They said the fighters decided to move him north into Taliban-controlled areas of Ghazni province.
The Afghans spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of arrest or reprisal. It was impossible to independently confirm their information.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militants holding the soldier haven’t yet set any conditions for his release.