Bergdahl: Muted return for soldier held by Taleban

Screenshot from a video of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal. Picture: Getty.
Screenshot from a video of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal. Picture: Getty.
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The American soldier freed last month after five years in Taleban captivity in Afghanistan was nervous when he arrived back in the United States but “looked good”, was in ­uniform and saluted, military officials said yesterday.

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned from Germany early on Friday and was taken to a military medical centre in Texas.

He is working daily with health professionals to regain his mental and physical health. His family is yet to visit him at Brooke Army Medical Centre in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, officials said.

In a statement, his parents said they were “overjoyed their son has returned to the United States” but asked for privacy.

Major General Joseph P
Di­Salvo, who greeted Bergdahl upon his arrival, said they exchanged a few words.

“He appeared just like any sergeant would when they see a two-star general, a little bit nervous. But he looked good and saluted and had good deportment,” DiSalvo said.

When he will be allowed to return to normal life is unclear. “We will proceed at his pace,” said Colonel Bradley Poppen, an army psychologist. He said it was up to Bergdahl when he saw his family but would not give further details. It is not known if Bergdahl has spoken to his family at all.

Military officials declined to give details on what Bergdahl might remember about his capture or what he knows about the uproar surrounding his disappearance and release.

While in hospital, Bergdahl will have a “standard patient room”, but will not have access to a television, said Colonel Ronald Wool, who is in charge of Bergdahl’s medical care.

“We will bring him up slowly to what has been transpiring over the last five years,” Wool said.

Bergdahl arrived speaking English, though officials indicated his use of English had been impaired by being held hostage by Taleban fighters who spoke in Afghan dialects.

“Overall our assessment is that he did not have the opportunity the past five years to practise and speak his English,” said Wool.

Poppen said that during his captivity, Bergdahl had no control over any aspect of his life, including what and when he could eat. “So one of the concepts is to get him a sense of predictability and control of his environment,” he said.

Officials have kept a lid on details of Bergdahl’s condition out of concern that he should not be pushed into the media spotlight too soon. Bergdahl, from Hailey, Idaho, was captured in Afghanistan in June 2009 and released by the Taleban on 31 May in a prisoner exchange agreed by President Barack Obama in which five senior Taleban figures were transferred from detention at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and flown to Qatar, the Gulf state which has been attempting to broker peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan.

Bergdahl had been at Landstuhl Regional Medical Centre in Germany since 1 June.

The army has not formally started a new review into the circumstances of his capture and whether he had deserted when he was seized by insurgents.

The answers to those questions will be key to whether Bergdahl will receive more than $300,000 (£176,000) in back-pay owed to him since he disappeared. If declared a prisoner of war, he also could receive roughly another $300,000 or more.

Before leaving Germany on Thursday, officials in Washington said Bergdahl would not receive the automatic US army promotion that would have taken effect this month if he were still in captivity.

Now that he is back in US military control, any promotions would depend on his performance and achievement of certain training and education milestones.

Many have criticised the Obama administration for agreeing to release five Taleban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl. Some of Bergdahl’s former US army colleagues claim he is a deserter who cost the lives of fellow soldiers killed searching for him.

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