KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban released a video Friday showing a U.S. soldier who was captured more than five months ago in eastern Afghanistan.
Pte. 1st Class Bowe Bergdahl is the only known American serviceman in captivity. The U.S. airborne infantryman was taken by the Afghan Taliban in Paktika province on June 30.
“This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement,” said a statement from U.S. navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, spokesman for the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan that confirmed the man in the video is Bergdahl. “To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam.”
Bergdahl is shown seated, facing the camera, wearing sunglasses and what appears to be a U.S. military helmet and uniform. On one side of the image, it says: “An American soldier imprisoned by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
The man identifies himself as Bergdahl, born in Sun Valley, Idaho, and gives his rank, birth date, blood type, his unit and mother’s maiden name before beginning a lengthy verbal attack on the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan and its relations with Muslims. He seems healthy and doesn’t appear to have been abused.
The video, which has an English-language narration in parts, also shows images of prisoners in U.S. custody being abused. The speaker says he did not suffer such ill treatment.
A statement read by a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, appears at the end of the video and renews demands for a “limited number of prisoners” to be exchanged for Bergdahl. The statement says that more American troops could be captured.
The Geneva Conventions, which regulate the conduct of war between regular armies, bar the use of detainees for propaganda purposes and prohibit signatories from putting captured military personnel on display. As an insurgent organization, the Taliban are not party to the treaty.
Statements from captives are typically viewed as being made under duress. The insurgents also released a video of Bergdahl a few weeks after he was captured. In the July 19 video, Bergdahl appeared downcast and frightened.
Bergdahl, who was serving with a unit based in Fort Richardson, Alaska, was 23 when he vanished just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He was serving at a base in Paktika province near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold. On Friday, NATO said a joint Afghan-international force killed several militants in Paktika while searching for a commander of the Jalaluddin Haqqani militant network that is linked to al-Qaida.
U.S. military officials have searched for Bergdahl, but it is not publicly known whether he is even being held in Afghanistan or neighbouring Pakistan.
Lt.-Col. Tim Marsano, an Idaho National Guard spokesman who has been serving as a liaison between the family and media, said Thursday that the family had not seen the video since word of its possible release surfaced earlier this month. He spoke with Bob and Jani Bergdahl, Bowe Bergdahl’s parents, earlier this week and described their mood as “anxiously awaiting” any new information about their son.
“They’re very hopeful that the message will be a positive one, as far as their son’s health and welfare,” Marsano said.
Marsano said the family still wasn’t speaking publicly about Bergdahl’s capture.
The man on the video said U.S. officials keep leading America “into the same holes,” citing Vietnam, Japan, Germany, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq.
“This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense,” he said.