US troops in Afghanistan relieved over Bergdahl release
US soldiers serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on patrol outside Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, on February 28, 2009 - by Shah Marai
To ensure troops stayed on the lookout for Bergdahl, commanders had installed a screen saver on every American soldier's computer in Afghanistan that carried a photo of the captured sergeant as a reminder.
"I always wondered what happened to him," said Gloria Goomtam, 37, a US Army specialist. "I'm so happy for him."
But Bergdahl, held by insurgents for nearly five years, was never spotted by American forces or rescued in a raid.
Instead, his freedom was brokered by Qatar in a swap that required the United States to transfer five Taliban detainees out of the Guantanamo prison.
The deal has sparked an outcry among some lawmakers that President Barack Obama sold out to Taliban "terrorists," but Goomtam said the agreement was worth it.
"To be honest, I'm still glad he's back, because we need him. It's better to have him back," she said.
"I did put myself in his situation and I thought, that could be me," she said. "You got to put yourself in his shoes."
Soldiers at the sprawling Bagram Airfield, the main hub for US forces in Afghanistan, were surprised to learn when they woke on Sunday that Bergdahl had been treated at their base's hospital and was free of his captors.
Staff Sergeant Robert Mashburn, 28, heard the news from his wife in a Skype phone call.
"My wife told me that a soldier had been freed and I knew who it was,"said Mashburn, a member of the 101st Airborne.
That Bergdahl's release came at a price, with five senior Taliban figures allowed to leave the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, posed a difficult dilemma, he said.
"Letting them (Taliban militants) go, I don't want to see that happen. At the same time, I would do anything for that soldier, " he said.
"I have a one-year-old girl. I can't imagine what his family were going through," he said.
Videos released by the Taliban over the years had shown the captive soldier looking distraught and gaunt, and fellow troops were disturbed by what they saw.
"I couldn't bring myself to watch those," Mashburn said.
Bergdahl's release was reassuring for troops as it showed the US government had worked relentlessly to secure his freedom, he said.
"Whatever your beliefs, if you think we should be here or we shouldn't be here, we have someone, an American, in captivity and we've got to get him. I think everyone can agree on that," he said.
"Someone was out there pushing for this. I'm thankful for that."
Another soldier guarding a gate at the Bagram base, who asked not to be quoted by name, said he was not surprised by the swap.
"There had to be something in return for them to release him after all these years," he said.
The United States and its allies have had to contend with lethal roadside bombs in Afghanistan but, unlike the Vietnam war, they have not had soldiers taken prisoner by the insurgents, who are heavily outgunned by NATO-led forces.
Bergdahl was the only US soldier held captive, and the circumstances have remained shrouded in mystery.
He was abducted in Paktika Province in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009, and how he became separated from his unit is unclear.
Bergdahl is believed to have been held by the Haqqani network, associates of the Taliban, in Pakistan’s northwest tribal areas near the Afghan border.
One civilian contractor at Bagram, a retired soldier, said there were many questions about how Bergdahl had been abducted and whether he had violated orders or his training.
"You have to wonder what happened there," he said.
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