Senior U.S. defense officials have condemned the use of a captured
American soldier in a video released by the Taliban and say the U.S.
military is doing everything possible to find the missing man.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had only this to say today about the capture of 23-year-old U.S. Army Private Bowe Bergdahl and the video the Taliban apparently forced him to make.
"Our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier. And I also would say my personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young man," Gates said.
In the video, Private Bergdahl is seen sitting on the floor in a nondescript room, wearing a traditional Afghan outfit and eating a meal.
"Well, I am scared - scared I won't be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner," he said.
Bergdahl appears to be answering questions from someone off-camera, who also seems to prompt him about what to say.
"I have a very, very good family that I love back home. [A second barely audible voice intervenes.] [Bergdahl continues] And I miss them every day that I'm gone I miss them. And I'm afraid that I might never see them again, and that I'll never be able to tell them that I love them again. I'll never be able to hug them," Bergdahl continued.
The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, says intelligence officers are studying the video, but he declined to share their conclusions during a news conference. The admiral just returned from a visit to Afghanistan, where he met with some of the U.S. troops who are searching for Private Bergdahl.
"Having been with the forces, in fact, who are conducting the operations to recover him, or to find him, they are extensive, vast. They are on it 24/7 and we're doing absolutely everything we can to get him back. There's a tremendous effort ongoing to return this individual to us, and it is full spectrum," Mullen said.
The U.S. military has been searching for Private Bergdahl for about two weeks, since he reportedly disappeared during a patrol. The Defense Department is not confirming the exact circumstances of his disappearance somewhere in eastern Afghanistan. He is the first U.S. soldier taken prisoner in the country.
Bergdahl's identity only became public in the last few days. But in the soldier's hometown in the western U.S. state of Idaho, his family has known about his capture from the beginning.
On Monday, the local sheriff, J. Walt Femling, read a statement from the Bergdahl family.
"We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and concern towards Bowe and our family. As you know, the situation is extremely difficult for everyone involved. We'd like to remind all of you that our sole focus is seeing our beloved son Bowe safely home. Please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers, and we'd ask for your continued respect of our need for privacy in this difficult situation," said Femling.
Among other things, the U.S. military has been distributing leaflets in the area where Bergdahl was captured, urging residents to help find him, and threatening that if his captors do not release him unharmed they will be hunted down. Admiral Mullen says the leaflets reflect the concern and the determination of the U.S. troops searching for their comrade.
The admiral also spoke about the progress of the U.S. Marines' offensive in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban has fought back in some areas, but not others.
"Two aspects of the Taliban: One is, in some places, they're just not standing and fighting. They're dispersing. But the other is that they've reached a level of sophistication, in some cases, which is pretty high," Mullen said. And I talked to a couple of Rangers who were in some pretty tough fights that were surprised that the Taliban were as good and sophisticated as they were," he continued.
Mullen also said he was impressed by how quickly the new directive on avoiding civilian casualties has been adopted by U.S. troops at all levels. He said in many cases they are pursuing their missions in more difficult and complex ways to ensure civilians are not injured, while also finding ways not to put themselves at risk.