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Bowe Bergdahl Release: Email Exchange Reveals Extent of US Failure in Afghan War
The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,' wrote Sergeant Bergdahl in an email later published by Rolling Stone magazine
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It is a bitter indictment of an army in trouble. It was written by the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl in his last email to his parents sent just before he walked off his base in eastern Afghanistan on 30 June 2009.

Within hours, he was picked by the Taliban who held him for five years until his exchange for five senior Taliban leaders held in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,” wrote Sergeant Bergdahl in an email later published by Rolling Stone magazine. “It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

Sgt Bergdahl had joined the army when it was short of soldiers to send to Afghanistan as part of the “surge” in the number of combat brigades there. With too few men, it had started to issue “waivers” to recruits facing felony charges or drugs problems who previously would have been turned down for the army. For Sgt Bergdahl, a crack shot, well-educated and with a romantic vision of what professional soldiering involved, disillusionment set in fast.

His company was understrength and demoralised. He complained that three good sergeants had been forced to move to another company and “one of the biggest shit bags is being put in charge of the team”. The commander of his battalion was a “conceited old fool” and other officers were as bad: “In the US army you are cut down for being honest… but if you are a conceited brown-nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank.”

Sgt Bergdahl had taken seriously the counter-insurgency strategy supposedly aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of Afghans. Instead, he found that US soldiers regarded Afghans with aggressive contempt: “I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

He spoke of seeing an Afghan child run over by an American heavy-armoured truck, an event which his parents believe may have led him to leave his base. His father responded to his last message with an email in which the subject line was titled: “Obey Your Conscience.”

The life stories of the six men – five Afghans and one American – exchanged this weekend shows how quickly the mood of armies in Afghanistan can switch from full confidence in victory to frustration and defeat. In the summer of 2001 the Taliban rightly believed they were close to taking over the whole of Afghanistan as their enemies were penned into the mountains of the north-east.

But 9/11 changed all that and by November the Americans were cock-a-hoop that they had won an easy success. Eight years later Sgt Bergdahl’s reasons for going Awol illustrate how far Afghanistan turned into a demoralising and unwinnable war for the US.

The Taliban had also seen hopes of victory turn sour in a much shorter period. Mullah Mohammed Fazl, also known as Mullah Fazel Mazloom, was the leader of 10,000 Taliban fighters held responsible for massacres of Hazara and Tajiks in northern Afghanistan.

He surrendered to the opposition Northern Alliance in 2001. With him was the governor of Balkh province, Mullah Norullah Noori. They were taken to the battleship USS Bataan and then to Guantanamo.


Ever since exploratory talks started between the US and the Taliban, the first demand of the latter was for these two men to be released. Other prisoners include Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa who was a founding member of the Taliban in 1994. In these early days after the fall of the Taliban, an over-confident US saw no reason why former Taliban leaders should be conciliated. Among those senior Taliban security official reported to have vainly reached out to the Americans are the two remaining detainees.

Who could have imagined at the end of 2001 that 13 years later the US would be exchanging prisoners with the Taliban? For the US, getting back their only prisoner detaches them further from Afghanistan, the handover of the five leaders is a sign of their legitimacy and strength.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
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  1. The most charitable interpretation of the Obama policy re Bergdahl is that it is part of a larger plan to bring some peace to an Afghanistan which has not benefited much from our military involvement. Perhaps we are negotiating in good faith with the Taliban. Thirteen years after 9/11 we may need to rethink out policy towards the Taliban. Yes they are Muslim fanatics, but unless we are willing to exterminate Muslims wholesale we shall have to live with them in many places, including in Europe and in America. I would prefer perhaps to nuke them all but that is hardly possible.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    “I would prefer perhaps to nuke them all but that is hardly possible.”

    Why? What they did to you? I hope you know that Taliban has absolutely nothing to do with 9/11..
    And even if they did – to nuke them ALL?

    They are people just like you, not better, but not worse. Adapted to their local conditions. Why to nuke them? Why not to leave them alone? I hope you were being sarcastic.

    Don´t wish something to other human being, not being prepared to experience it.
    Anyway, I think that, if you live in USA or Europe, there is a very good chance that you will learn what does it mean “to be nuked”, only if you are not terminated from the first blasts.
    World leaders are getting us to this, every day, every hour… Then you will remember your stupid, stupid words.

    “Nuke them all”

  3. The problem with the minds in America is, that the owners of the heads were never bombed, fire-bombed or nuked (as one of these “indispensables” – Truman – did with the population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Is this – the nuking of America – necessary? Is it?
    Maybe via Ukraine, now? Or, maybe when this corridor will open fully to attack Russia?
    Than the fervor of bombing others may subside – when the ashes will be closer and visible. Fallujah never was.

  4. Dave37 says:

    If anybody is surprised the US didn’t achieve it’s goals in the Afghan war they must have been in a coma for the last several years. I guess it seems more obvious to the man in the street than Washington. As far as nuclear bombs being used in Japan, more people were killed in the fire bombing of Japanese cities and nukes haven’t been used since. That’s over 60 years of having a ‘super’ weapon and the military hasn’t used it. I’d think the possibility of nukes being used by the Russians or North Koreans or somebody from the middle east is a lot higher than the US. Whoever uses them, the winners won’t be the innocent.

  5. The American experience of war has been relatively benign – except for a fairly brief well-delineated period of some self-inflicted destruction from 1861 -65, America has never really experienced the ravages of war in a way that would engender deep thinking, as opposed to Star Spangled War Stories.

    America has faced similar displacement and change but because it’s often due to economics, it has seemed more ‘natural’ and tolerable – much like world disease, poverty or starvation.

    War hasn’t grown to be anything Americans might want to avoid. And so they see their ‘rivals’ in the same light. Russia, invaded twice in this century and largely destroyed both times with massive loss of life and destruction – is a ‘threat’ and a ‘warmonger’. China which experienced a revolution incomparable to 1776, is another war-hungry rival for economic primacy. Even North Korea – flattened in the 50’s “want’s more”. Ditto Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Honduras, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Liberia, Kosovo,Nicaragua, Cuba, etc etc etc

    War is now more heroic than ever, particularly as it involves ‘volunteers’ who exchange a risk of ‘service’ for a lifetime of public adulation and national ‘honor’. Compounded by an inherent ”right’ to resort to the gun as a last resort (or even a first resort) and a military industrial complex that is currently the last great hope for American enterprise and inventiveness, America – staring in the face of growing want in the world has developed a fairly unhealthy ‘bunker mentality’ detached from any realistic experience.

    The same old causes that would make ‘third worlders’ want to consider changing the Manhattan skyline – economic exploitation backed by military interventions – are every bit as much a part of the ‘ugly’ side of Americans to-day as they are when the term was coined back in late 50’s . With the notable exception of a far greater willingness to ‘extend’ the military power that wasn’t as present then.

    The Americans who inspired the League of Nations and the UN Charter have been trumped by the jingoes who in past times eradicated ‘injun pests’ and ‘decorated’ trees in Alabama. The American ‘world view’ has been enunciated by mediocrities.

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