QUETTA, PAKISTAN – Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may be innocent of desertion as far as the U.S. Army is concerned, but in recent days the ex-prisoner of war now faces the same charges from the most unlikely direction: his former captors.
Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has announced that the insurgent group, following its own internal investigation, would be charging Bergdahl with deserting his post — a crime punishable by death, public flogging, or lengthy imprisonment, although typically not in that order.
"We are investigating the incident where Brother [Bergdahl] may — and I stress this is not definite — may have walked off his post without his AK-47," Zabihullah said in an interview with Al Jazeera.
According to Zabihullah, on May 31, 2014 Bergdahl was pulling security at a high-level meeting in Khowst Province between a Taliban commander and a group of American Special Forces who had arrived by helicopter. Zabihullah said that Bergdahl appears to have boarded the helicopter without any authorization and is now believed to have defected to the United States.
In a video released by the Taliban, Bergdahl is shown walking towards the helicopter while a Taliban fighter shouts, "Come back! Come back to Afghanistan!" The Taliban then applaud when Bergdahl boards the helicopter, apparently thinking he is about to detonate a suicide vest, but are left speechless when it suddenly takes off with him aboard.
Some of his fellow Taliban are still angry at what they called a 'betrayal.'
"He is not a mujaheddin! He is a deserter!" said Tofan Wali, a Taliban fighter who was part of the unit that initially recruited Bergdahl back in 2009. "For five years we worked together, fought together, prayed together, checked out chai boys at the bazaar together, and this is how he repays us!" He referred to rumors that Bergdahl had converted to Christianity and quietly divorced his three Pashtun wives as "disgusting."
"Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to get him back," Tofan said, his eyes growing dark as he stared at the correspondent.
Bergdahl, known to his fellow Taliban as Ibn Abdullah, had become increasingly restless in the months leading up to his desertion. He began openly questioning his commitment to jihad and often spoke of leaving Afghanistan for a new adventure, such as entering a Magic: The Gathering tournament, visiting another planet, traveling back in time, or becoming a woman.
He maintains his innocence, saying through his lawyer that he thought he was merely heading out for tea with the Americans, and was surprised when they instead put him on a plane and flew him back to the U.S.
For his own personal safety Bergdahl has gone into hiding in Idaho, a rugged mountainous area far from civilization, where he is being guarded by several of the local hill tribes.
The Taliban have asked the U.S. to immediately extradite Bergdahl back to Afghanistan to face criminal charges. The U.S. Department of Justice has vowed to work overtime to fulfill their request.