Captured U.S. Soldier in Taliban Video Identified

Officials say soldier captured in Afghanistan is 23-year-old Bowe Bergdahl.

July 19, 2009, 12:12 PM

July 19, 2009— -- Department of Defense officials confirmed the identity of a captured American soldier in a video posted online Saturday by the Taliban.

Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, 23, of Hailey, Idaho, went missing from his base in eastern Afghanistan on June 30. On July 3, officials declared him "missing-captured."

Early in the video, a captor holds up the soldier's dog tag to the camera. Later Bergdahl states his name and hometown.

Bergdahl is a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Fort Richardson, Alaska.

Bergdahl is shown in the video sitting cross-legged with a shaved head eating a meal. During the footage, the camera frequently cuts back and forth to shots of Bergdahl answering questions in short, stilted sentences.

"I am scared -- scared I won't be able to come home," Bergdahl says in the video. "It is very unnerving to be a prisoner."

Bergdahl, who appeared dressed in gray with the start of a beard, spoke of his family and the girlfriend he hopes to marry back home. For a moment, he began to break down and cry.

In subsequent shots, he was asked, "Any message to your people?"

He replied, "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."

The 28-minute video features more question and answers about Bergdahl's view on the war, which he called extremely hard, and about Bergdahl's desire to learn more about Islam.

The military first made Bergdahl's capture public on July 2, though he was believed captured on June 30.

A Department of Defense official told ABC News on Friday that if it hadn't been for the BBC reporting on the missing soldier on July 2, the military would have kept the capture quiet. The goal, he said, was to minimize the amount of information that might get back to his captors that might influence the military's search and recovery.

Bergdahl May Have Wandered Off

Though locals in Hailey have organized a candlelight vigil on July 8, the Bergdahl family itself has gone along with military officials' request that loved ones maintain a low profile.

Bergdahl's parents issued a statement Sunday through the Idaho National Guard, which asked that the family not be contacted.

"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," Bergdahl's parents said. "Thank you, and please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers."

The National Guard added, "Due to the sensitivity of this issue, the Bergdahls have made it clear they do not wish to be contacted by media representatives; please respect this family's privacy."

Bergdahl says in the video that he was captured when he lagged behind on a patrol.

However, Defense officials said it appeared he somehow left his base in Paktika Province at night, likely accompanied by several Afghan soldiers, and that his disappearance wasn't noted until the following day when his body armor and rifle were found in his quarters. There were some reports that Bergdahl had wandered off drunk with the Afghan soldiers.

Defense officials said they didn't know the real reason why he left, but speculated he might have been visiting a female and that he may have had prior behavioral issues.

The military conducted a major search effort for him in Paktika Province and the neighboring provinces of Paktia and Ghazni. It is in those two provinces that the United States distributed leaflets written in Pashto asking for help in his rescue.

One of the leaflets requested help and provided a phone number. The other seemed directed towards his captors and showed a U.S. soldier kicking down a door and the words, "If you do not release the U.S. soldier, then you will be hunted."

The flyers were distributed via airdrops in town centers, and hand-to-hand distribution. Bergdahl is not pictured on the leaflets.

Click HERE and HERE to see flyers.

U.S. Military: Taliban Using Soldier for 'Propaganda'

Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. military spokeswoman in Afghanistan, said the Taliban was using its captive for propaganda.

"I'm glad to see he appears unharmed, but again, this is a Taliban propaganda video," Sidenstricker said. "They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law."

Bergdahl identifies the date in the video as July 14, although it is unclear from the video alone that the date is authentic.

In the video, Bergdahl speaks about a recent helicopter crash, saying that he heard a Chinook helicopter carrying 37 NATO troops had been shot down over the Helmand Provence in Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reported that a helicopter carrying six Ukrainian civilians on a reported humanitarian mission for NATO forces was shot down in southern Afghanistan on July 14.

Afghans speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP that the soldier was held by a Taliban group led by a commander called Maulvi Sangin, who operates in the area where Bergdahl went missing.

The Afghans, who are in contact with the Taliban, said Bergdahl's captors planned to smuggle him into Pakistan, but then decided to move him into Taliban-controlled areas of Ghanzi province.

The AP said it was impossible to independently confirm the anonymous Afghans' information.

Defense officials believe Bergdahl remains in Afghanistan, particularly where the leaflets were distributed. The Taliban- and al Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network operates in that part of eastern Afghanistan.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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