WASHINGTON— U.S. officials are defending the Taliban prisoner swap that freed an American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, but those who served with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl said he willingly walked away from his post after becoming disillusioned with the U.S. war effort.
Military personnel who knew Bergdahl, then 23, when he disappeared nearly five years ago said that while on guard duty, he left his weapons behind and walked off his post.
Some said Bergdahl should have to answer for his actions.
Bergdahl was captured by Taliban insurgents in June 2009 and held until the United States won his freedom May 31 by agreeing to release five Taliban terrorism suspects held at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Military officials are confirming to news agencies that Bergdahl left his unit voluntarily, but said they do not know why.
Bergdahl is undergoing medical tests in Germany before he returns to America for debriefings and a reunion with his family.
U.S. soldiers who leave their posts without permission can face serious charges of desertion or being absent without leave. But U.S. officials said that is unlikely in Bergdahl's case, given his five years in captivity at the hands of the Taliban.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Bergdahl's health is most important at the moment and questions about his disappearance can wait.
"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family. Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later," said Hagel.
Emails to parents cited
A Rolling Stone magazine profile of his case in 2012 said an email he sent his parents in the western U.S. state of Idaho shortly before disappearing showed that he had become sharply disenchanted by the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to destroy Taliban military operations at the root of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
Bergdahl profanely criticized some of the leaders of his Army unit and said the U.S. war was misguided.
Bergdahl concluded, " I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of U.S. solider is just the lie of fools."
But within a month, in a video released by the Taliban, Bergdahl sat on a floor eating a meal and acknowledged his fright in captivity.
"Well, I am scared, I am scared I will not be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner," he said.
U.S. officials have not said when Bergdahl will return to his homeland.