Questions Abound Over Why Bergdahl Left Afghan Post

A classified Pentagon investigation suggests Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked off his post in Afghanistan, though it does not conclude he deserted. He was held captive for 5 years.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Now, the U.S. military is saying very little about Sergeant Bergdahl's condition now that he's in a military hospital in Germany. Army leaders have said that once he is determined to be healthy, they will investigate the circumstances of his capture and whether he broke any military laws and should be prosecuted. For more, we're joined in our studio by NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So these investigators will be looking at whether Bergdahl might have deserted, as some are actually charging. What are you hearing as of now?

BOWMAN: Well, that's right. There will be an investigation, but it will be the second investigation. The Army completed one back in 2010 and that report of the investigation is still classified. But I'm told by several people who read it that it's exhaustive.

It looked at how often he met with Afghan security forces in his compound. It looks at his state of mind - that he had soured on the Army mission in Afghanistan, and that he wanted to help Afghans. But he just didn't think that was being done.

GREENE: So they'd been looking at him before? I mean, there are prior reports about this. Looking now, trying to connect dots - how he thought about the mission. What it might have led him to do.

BOWMAN: Exactly. So that's one part of it. And I'm told that the report says - the one completed in 2010 - says that he clearly left his post of his own volition - that he had not lagged behind on a patrol, as he said in a Taliban video shortly after he was captured.

But the report never mentions desertion which is a very serious crime. Desertion means you have no intention of coming back. So the report kind of leaves that question open, whether he intended to come back or not.

Now what's interesting, David, is this - his fellow soldiers told investigators there were two prior times when he had just wandered off for a few hours. Once was at the Army's national training Center in California where his unit was preparing for Afghan duty and another time in Afghanistan. And one officer who saw this report said, listen, this guy just wandered off into the hills. Another said, listen, he had a naïve way of looking at the world. And of course the Army still has to interview Bergdahl. And they're going to wait until he's deemed healthy before they do that.

GREENE: And learn, probably, much more from him when they actually talk to him about this. You know, there are allegations from members of his unit, also, that during the search for Bergdahl, some six to eight members of the military were killed. Is there truth to that?

BOWMAN: Well, that's the allegation, according to soldiers who served with Bergdahl. They said they immediately went searching for him. And they did so for months, repeatedly, on directed missions.

So at this time, the area was extremely dangerous - a lot of Taliban activity. And one of the former soldiers is Josh Cornelison. He was a medic with Bergdahl's platoon. I spoke with him, and let's listen to what he said.

JOSH CORNELISON: Every single thing that we did was revolving around finding Bowe Bergdahl - everything.

BOWMAN: And Cornelison and the others in the unit said they were on directed missions again to find Bergdahl. So they're saying there was a link. Pentagon officials say you really can't make that link. They were always on patrol anyway. It was a dangerous area. So that's something that will have to be sorted out as well.

GREENE: Really an extraordinary story we're learning from inside the military. That's NPR Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thanks, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David.

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