The American military yesterday condemned the Taliban for releasing a propaganda video that showed a captured soldier pleading for US troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. The Pentagon named the private as Bowe Bergdahl, 23, from Idaho.
A 28-minute video of Pte Bergdahl was posted on the internet, showing the soldier in good health but saying he was scared and missing his family. It is believed to be the first time in more than two years that a US serviceman has been captured in either Iraq or Afghanistan. "We condemn the use of this video and the public humiliation of prisoners. It is against international law," a US military spokesman said. "We are doing everything we can to return this soldier to safety."
The Taliban said the video dated from 14 July, although it was impossible to verify the date. The military in Afghanistan has been distributing leaflets calling for the return of Pte Bergdahl, who said he was picked up by the Taliban after falling behind while on patrol.
Last week, Mawlavi Sangin, a Taliban commander in Paktika province, the south-eastern area where Pte Bergdahl went missing on 30 June, said his men were holding the soldier and would kill him if the military applied pressure to find him.
Afghani and US troops have been searching for Pte Bergdahl for two weeks and offering a reward for help. Locals have told them Taliban fighters initially planned to smuggle the soldier across the border into Pakistan, but ruled that out because of US missile strikes and Pakistani bombing attacks against militant targets in the area.
"I am scared. I'm scared I won't be able to go home. It is very unnerving to be a prisoner," Pte Bergdahl says in the video. He is dressed in loose Afghan clothing, appearing with a shaved head and a light beard, drinking tea and eating – but he is clearly being directed in what to say.
"I have my girlfriend who is hoping to marry. I have my grandma and grandpas. I have a very, very good family that I love back home in America," he says, and then a voice off camera prompts "miss them".
The soldier 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."
Later, the voice prompts: "Any message to your people?" Pte Bergdahl then adds: "Yes. To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it's like to miss them: you have the power to make our Government bring them home.
"Please, please bring us home so that we can be back where we belong and not over here, wasting our time and our lives and our precious life that we could be using back in our own country. Please bring us home. It is America and American people who have that power."
Pte Bergdahl's father, Bob Bergdahl, said yesterday: "We hope and pray for our son's safe return to his comrades and then to our family, and we appreciate all the support and expressions of sympathy shown to us by our family members, our friends and others across the nation."
*A Russian-owned civilian helicopter crashed and burst into flames, killing 16 people, shortly after taking off from the largest Nato base in southern Afghanistan yesterday. It was the latest in a series of deadly aircraft crashes in the country. A spokesman for the alliance said there was no enemy involvement in the crash.