Bergdahl Is Said to Have History of Leaving Post

The Taliban released a video that shows the moment Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was handed to United States forces in eastern Afghanistan.
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WASHINGTON — A classified military report detailing the Army’s investigation into the disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in June 2009 says that he had wandered away from assigned areas before — both at a training range in California and at his remote outpost in Afghanistan — and then returned, according to people briefed on it.

The roughly 35-page report, completed two months after Sergeant Bergdahl left his unit, concludes that he most likely walked away of his own free will from his outpost in the dark of night, and it criticized lax security practices and poor discipline in his unit. But it stops short of concluding that there is solid evidence that Sergeant Bergdahl, then a private, intended to permanently desert.

Whether Sergeant Bergdahl was a deserter who never intended to come back, or simply slipped away for a short adventure amid an environment of lax security and discipline and was then captured, is one of many unanswered questions about his disappearance


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The issue is murky, the report said, in light of Sergeant Bergdahl’s previous episodes of walking off. The report cites accounts from his unit mates that in their predeployment exercise at the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., he sneaked or crawled off a designated course or range either to see how far he could go or to see a sunrise or sunset.

The report is also said to cite members of his platoon as saying that he may have taken a shorter unauthorized walk outside the concertina wire of his combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan before he left for good, in an episode that was apparently not reported up the chain of command. The newspaper Military Times on Wednesday first reported that claim, also citing officials familiar with the military’s report.

But the report is said to contain no mention of Sergeant Bergdahl’s having left behind a letter in his tent that explicitly said he was deserting and explained his disillusionment, as a retired senior military official briefed on the investigation at the time told The New York Times this week.

Asked about what appeared to be a disconnect, the retired officer insisted that he remembered reading a field report discussing the existence of such a letter in the early days of the search and was unable to explain why it was not mentioned in the final investigative report.

Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to discuss the report or make it available.

Key Questions in the Release of Bowe Bergdahl
Sorting out the facts and the controversy surrounding the release of the lone American prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.
“The Department of Defense does not discuss information contained within classified investigations,” he said. “The department is making every consideration regarding the disposition of its continued classification.”

The narrative about Sergeant Bergdahl over the past few days has undergone a rapid evolution based on accounts by current and former soldiers, which have grown increasingly dark. They have gone from saying he should not be treated as a hero because he was a deserter and blaming the subsequent search for him for every American combat death in the province over a three-month period, to alleging that there is evidence that he was trying to meet up with the Taliban.

Amid the controversy, an event in his hometown, Hailey, Idaho, to celebrate his return has been canceled. But the accounts of the investigative report, which was described as meticulous and thorough, suggest that even basic facts necessary to understand how he came to disappear have yet to be definitively established.

The people briefed on the “15-6 report,” named for the army regulation covering such investigations, described it on the condition of anonymity because it remains classified. The report was written by an investigating officer in July and August of 2009 after extensive interviews with members of Sergeant Bergdahl’s unit, including his squad leader, platoon leader, and company and battalion commanders.

The report is also said to contain no mention of any alleged intercepts of radio or cellphone traffic indicating that Sergeant Bergdahl was asking villagers if anyone spoke English and trying to get in touch with the Taliban, as two former squad mates told CNN this week in separate interviews; they both said they remembered hearing about the intercepts from a translator who received the report.

A leaked military activity report that contemporaneously logged significant events during the initial eight-day search for Sergeant Bergdahl says that at 10:12 a.m. on June 30, about six hours after he was reported missing, an unidentified man was overheard on a radio or cellphone saying that an American soldier with a camera “is looking for someone who speaks English.”

Still, the log says nothing about the unidentified man’s saying that the American wanted to get in touch with the Taliban.