Hagel Honors Existing POW Bowe Bergdahl on National Day of Recognition

Defense secretary promises continued efforts to free POW soldier detained by Haqqani Network.


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel honored Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, left, who is presumed to be a captive of the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, an Islamic militant group associated with the Taliban.


Remembering America's prisoners of war took on a flavor of current events on Friday, when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel included in his POW/MIA Day remarks a note about one soldier who remains far behind enemy lines.

[READ: U.S.-Taliban Talks Could Lead to Release of American Captive]

Bowe Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and is believed to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani Network, an Islamic militant group associated with the Taliban. Hagel cited this missing warrior on Friday as he spoke before a group of veteran POWs and the families of those who remain missing in action.

"We vow never to leave a fellow service member behind," Hagel said, flanked by a field of neatly organized rows of honor guards from all the service branches. "That commitment extends to Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by enemy forces in Afghanistan more than four years ago."

"Our hearts today are with the Bergdahl family. Using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools, the United States is continuing its efforts to secure Sgt. Bergdahl's safe release."

Hopes for the Idaho native's release resurfaced earlier this summer, when the Taliban told the Associated Press that it would be willing to release the soldier in exchange for the liberation of five detainees at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Those negotiations floundered following highly publicized criticism from the Afghan government.

Pakistani intelligence officials confirmed that a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Sangeen Zadran, one of the militants suspected of detaining Bergdahl, in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of northern Pakistan earlier in September, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Circumstances surrounding the reported capture of Bergdahl remain murky. Multiple videos have surfaced from Islamic militant organizations featuring Bergdahl, now 26, pleading for his release.

"Release me, please. I'm begging you. Bring me home," he pleads to the camera in one video.

A State Department spokesman said in June that the U.S. would be open to negotiating with the Taliban for Bergdahl's release.

"Absolutely we will want to talk with the Taliban about the safe return of Sergeant Bergdahl," said spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "He has been gone for too long, and we continue to call for and work toward his safe and immediate release."

[ALSO: Taliban Attack on NATO Compound Leaves 7 Dead]

More than 83,000 troops remain unaccounted for in America's wars dating back to World War II, according to the Defense Department. Of these, six remain from the war in Iraq and other post-Vietnam conflicts. The Pentagon also tracks attendance at regular updates it holds for family members of those who are missing. That number has grown from roughly 200 in 1996 to just over 1,000 as of this September.

The White House issued a formal declaration declaring Friday National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

"Today, we pay tribute to the service members who have not returned from the battlefield, we stand beside their families, and we honor those who are held captive as prisoners of war," according to the proclamation. "We will never forget their sacrifice, nor will we ever abandon our responsibility to do everything in our power to bring them home."

The distinctive black and white flag symbolizing support for prisoners of war and those mission in action will fly about the White House, the Capitol Building, the departments of State, Defense and Veterans Affairs, as well as other government facilities and war monuments throughout the country.

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