Revealed: Bowe Bergdahl left letter telling comrades at Afghan base he was ‘leaving to start new life and didn’t want to fight for America’ as Army announces he DOES face desertion charges
- Sgt Bowe Bergdahl left a note for his comrades in which he said he did not want to fight for America any more and was leaving to start a new life
- Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today said ‘it’s premature’ to think there will be no charges against Bergdahl
- Will put Obama under more pressure after Susan Rice said he served with ‘honor and distinction’ and freed five Taliban commanders
- Former comrade who was there when Bergdahl disappeared five years ago broke a military gagging order to speak to MailOnline
- He said: ‘As far as I’m concerned Bergdahl deserted his men and should face the firing squad’
- ‘Everyone looked at me like I was crazy but I was right, he had walked off’
By DAN BATES
Bowe Bergdahl left a note saying he had gone to start a ‘new life’ and a former comrade broke his military gagging order today to tell MailOnline of the jaw-dropping moment he discovered the Taliban POW had walked off from their Afghanistan base.
The soldier, who requested anonymity as he is still in the military, said: ‘Everyone looked at me like I was crazy but I was right, he had walked off.’
The New York Times reported Bergdahl also left behind a note in which he said he did not want to fight for America any more, did not believe in the war – and was leaving to start a new life.
The revelation came as it emerged the Army may still pursue charges against Sgt Bergdahl for desertion.
AWOL: Bowe Bergdahl, pictured with pipe in mouth manning an observation post months before his disappearance, left a note telling his fellow soldiers that he was leaving to start a new life, did not want to fight for America and did not believe in war
Trial? Bergdahl (in T-shirt)faces the threat of desertion charges, the Army announced just days after Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice said he served with ‘honor and distinction’
Penalty: A former comrade of Bergdahl’s (seated with Blackfoot Company, 1st Battalion 501st infantry Regiment (Airborne) 25th Infantry Division in Afghanistan) said he should face the firing squad for what he did
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said military leaders have been accused of ‘looking away from misconduct, and it’s premature’ to think they will not look into it.
This comes just days after Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser said he served with ‘honor and distinction’.
There are a variety of offenses related to an absence without proper approval, and a number of potential actions could be taken by the military.
He could be tried by court martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for desertion; he could be given a non-judicial punishment for a lesser charge, such as being away without leave. And he could be given credit for time already served while he was a prisoner.
It will pile further pressure on Obama over his judgement in releasing five top Taliban terror leaders from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a soldier who now faces charges for abandoning his unit and his oath to the U.S. Army.
The soldier who spoke to MailOnline made his feelings and those of his comrades very clear.
He said: ‘As far as I’m concerned Bergdahl deserted his men and should face the firing squad. People died trying to save him. He was a deserter’.
Bergdahl’s platoon anxiously searched the observation post they had set up a remote area of Afghanistan but only found Bergdahl’s sleeping bag that had been neatly folded up.
It also claimed that he did not breach the perimeter wire and left by possibly hiding in a contractor’s vehicle meaning that he would have planned the escape in advance.
A huge search ensued during which time at least six US soldiers are said to have died while hunting for Bergdahl, 28, who has just been released from five years in captivity with the Taliban.
Premeditated: Soldiers claim Bergdahl (pictured in proof of life video) planned his desertion. He sent belongings home, learned the language, did not breach the perimeter fence on the day he disappeared and would spend his time learning the local languages. He even told them he wanted to walk to China
Killed in the search: Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen, 29, (left) and Private First Class Morris Walker, 23, (right) were killed in an IED explosion on August 18, 2009
Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, (left) a 27-year-old father of two, who died in a firefighter on August 26, 2009. Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey, 25, (right) was killed in an IED blast on September 5, 2009
Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, 34, (left) and Private First Class Matthew Michael Martinek, 20, (right) died after a rocket-propelled grenade ambush on September 4, 2009
Bergdahl was serving with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment in Paktika province near the Pakistani border with Afghanistan when he went missing in the early hours of 30 June 2009.
He had been at part of an Observation Post with 28 colleagues men and a few trucks set up in a defensive position to protect themselves.
Some of the men were sleeping in the trucks they had driven in on and others were camped out with their sleeping bags in the open. It was not until the 9am roll call that they realized he was gone.
Up until this point Bergdahl had been seen as a strange loner who wouldn’t socialize with the other men. Instead, he would stick to his bunk, learning Pashto and Arabic with Rosetta Stone.
A week earlier he had sent his belongings and computer home to his parents after setting out in an email to his father that he was ‘ashamed to be an American’ after what he had seen in Afghanistan – including soldiers laughing at running over an Afghan boy with an armored vehicle.
Specialist Gerald Sutton, 31, Sutton remembered Bergdahl talking with him and a third soldier just a few days before he walked away.
‘As far as I’m concerned Bergdahl deserted his men and should face the firing squad. People died trying to save him. He was a deserter’
– former Platoon comrade
‘He was asking us what it would be like to get lost in the mountains … and he asked me personally if I thought he could make it to China or India on foot. At the time we thought he was joking.
‘About a week or two before he left he mailed some of his stuff home,’ he said. ‘including his Apple laptop. He sent that home to his parents. That didn’t seem suspicious to us at the time, but it made sense after the fact.’
‘He left his weapon that day. The only thing he had with him was his diary – that none of us actually saw, so I have no idea what was in there – 2 MREs [‘Meals Ready to Eat’ rations], his knife, a bottle of water and his compass.’
The soldier who discovered him missing, said: ‘The first I heard was when one of the guards said he could not find Bergdahl.
‘I asked him: “What do you mean you can’t find him?’ He said he couldn’t find him anywhere. We sent two guys to the top of the observation post in case he was sleeping between two trucks, I thought maybe he’s sleeping down there.
‘We also sent one of the men to see if he was drinking tea with the Afghans. We looked at his sleeping bag and it was nicely folded.
Provisions: Bergdahl walked off without his gun, but with water, a compass and two days of rations
Desperate hunt: The soldiers began a frantic search costing millions of dollars using drones, military tracking dogs and dozens of men for eight days, although the wider operation to find him went on for three months
‘I said what do we have missing here and one of the younger soldiers said that there were four or five bottles bottles of water missing from a crate that he had. It was chaos. We all knew what would happen if we couldn’t find him.
‘Bergdahl’s backpack was missing, so was his knife. I knew right away he had not been captured – he had walked off.’
The soldier was told by an Afghan boy they spoke to that told them he had seen an American soldier walking away through the fields.
The soldier said: ‘Everyone looked at me like I was crazy but I was right, he had walked off.’
The soldiers began a frantic search costing millions of dollars using drones, military tracking dogs and dozens of men for eight days, although the wider operation to find him went on for three months.
Captain Travis Sorenson, the co-pilot of one of the first F15 aircraft sent up to hunt for Bergdahl, said that he heard on intelligence briefings in the next couple of days that he was thought to have been taken East straight away.
‘Everyone looked at me like I was crazy but I was right, he had walked off’
The plan was to get him into a cave system over the border with Pakistan because it was away from US soldiers, he said.
Captain Sorenson, 36, who has now left the military, told MailOnline: ‘The operation to try and find Bergdahl must have cost millions.
‘We had F-15s flying constant missions for 48 hours and had 52 planes doing search runs. There were A-10s, Apache helicopters, British Tornadoes, British Navy Harriers and German Tornadoes.
‘When we found out that he had walked off the base we were all extremely angry and could not understand why he did it. We spent a couple of days looking for him when other soldiers were getting bombed, we couldn’t support Navy SEALs and other people.
Backfired: The court of public opinion has swung dramatically away from joy and celebration at Bergdahl’s release since the weekend when Obama welcomed his parents, Jani and Bob, to the Rose Garden
Anger: The military ordered members of Bergdahl’s unit to sign non-disclosure agreements but they have since spoken out about his ‘desertion’ and how it cost the lives of those searching for him
‘We couldn’t do our jobs because we were looking for this guy’.
Leaked military communications on Wikileaks show the complete military signal traffic relating to Bergdahl’s release.
The text says that one of the last sightings of him was when he was in a black Toyota Corolla with a bag over his head being escorted by three to five motorcycles.
In intercepted chatter Taliban fighters could be heard asking themselves: ‘Is it true that they captured an American guy?’
The men joke about it and one of them responds that they should ‘cut the head off’.
Soldiers in Bergdahl’s platoon have claimed they were forced to sign a highly unusual nondisclosure agreement covering his disappearance in an apparent attempt to cover up what happened.
Two soldiers who spoke to MailOnline said the letter was passed around by commanders to those close to Sgt. Bergdahl.
The ploy backfired, however, as a number of soldiers spoke out regardless in angry Facebook messages and media interviews.
But the irregular action by the military raises fresh and disturbing questions about attempts to control the flow of information about the incident.
Sgt. Evan Buetow, who fought in Sgt. Bergdahl’s platoon, said: ‘I never signed it. I know there were a couple of soldiers who were closer to Sgt. Bergdahl as friends.
Beheading: Wikileaks files on intercepted Taliban comms showed that they wanted to ‘cut his head off’
‘I know a couple of them signed the official nondisclosure letter. We did not have to sign an NDA for other missions.’
Others who have spoken out anonymously on the Facebook page ‘Boweisatraitor’ have also referred to such a letter.
Another soldier from Sgt. Bergdahl’s unit who is still in the military told MailOnline: ‘The nondisclosure letters were handed around.’
‘Everyone signed them who was told to – they were just following orders.’
NDA letters are usually signed by soldiers who have security clearances or are working on sensitive missions.
The standard form is called SF312 and is known as a Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement. It prevents those who sign it from speaking about a specific event because it is in the interest of national security for them not to do so.