News Guide: Saving Sgt. Bergdahl: Facts and questions about the soldier, the deal, the rescue

The Associated Press

In this image taken from video obtained from Voice Of Jihad Website, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban have released a video showing the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan. The video, emailed to media on Wednesday, shows Bergdahl in traditional Afghan clothing sitting in a pickup truck parked on a hillside. More than a dozen Taliban fighters with machine guns stand around the truck and on the hillside. That feel-good moment in the Rose Garden sure seems like a long time ago. Just a week after the president announced that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been freed in Afghanistan, details emerging about the soldier, the deal and how the rescue came together are only adding to the list of questions. A look at what's known _ and unknown _ about saving Sgt. Bergdahl. (AP Photo/Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video)

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By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — That feel-good moment in the Rose Garden seems like a long time ago. Just a week after the president announced that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been freed in Afghanistan, details emerging about the soldier, the deal and how the rescue came together are only adding to the list of questions.

Why did Bergdahl leave his military post in the first place? Should he be punished as a deserter? Did U.S. troops die looking for him? Was the swap — Bergdahl's freedom for that of five Taliban commanders — a good deal for the United States or the Taliban, or both? Did the U.S. negotiate with terrorists? Why did President Obama OK the prisoner swap? And why now?

A look at what's known — and unknown — about saving Sgt. Bergdahl:

THE SOLDIER

On June 30, 2009, when he disappeared from his infantry unit, Bergdahl was a 23-year-old private first class who had been in Afghanistan just five months. Back home in central Idaho, he'd been known as a free spirit who worked as a barista and loved to dance ballet. After he disappeared, fellow soldiers recalled, he'd made some odd comments about the possibility of getting lost in the mountains and whether he could ship belongings home. Rolling Stone magazine later reported that Bergdahl had sent his parents emails suggesting he'd lost faith in the Army's mission there and was considering deserting. By 2010, the Pentagon had concluded that Bergdahl had voluntarily walked away from his outpost. During the five years he was held by the Taliban, he was automatically bumped up in rank to sergeant. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Bergdahl's next promotion to staff sergeant, which was to happen soon, is no longer automatic now that he has been freed.

THE CAPTORS

Within weeks of Bergdahl's disappearance, video surfaced revealing that he had been taken captive by the Taliban, who were embroiled in a bloody battle to topple the Afghan government and reclaim power. It's believed that Bergdahl was held in eastern Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan under supervision of the Haqqani network, a Taliban ally that the U.S. deems a terrorist organization. Over the next five years, the Taliban trickled out at least a half-dozen videos of Bergdahl in captivity. The most recent one was a proof-of-life video taken in December that seemed to show him in declining health. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Bergdahl was held under "good conditions," and was given fresh fruit and any other foods he requested. He said the soldier enjoyed playing soccer as well as reading, including English-language books about Islam. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar said the swap of Bergdahl for five of his men was a significant achievement for the organization, which is angling to increase its influence in post-war Afghanistan.

THE SEARCH

The Pentagon initially said it was "sparing no effort" to find Bergdahl, with members of his own unit involved in the hunt for their former comrade. But the search effort waned after it appeared he had been taken to Pakistan — out of bounds for American forces. No high-stakes rescue effort was launched, mostly because of a lack of actionable intelligence and fears that Bergdahl might be killed during a raid. Instead, the U.S. kept tabs on him with spies, drones and satellites as negotiations to get him back played out in fits and starts. Some of Bergdahl's fellow soldiers have said he should bear the blame for any deaths of soldiers killed or harmed while searching for him. The military hasn't confirmed a link to any such deaths.

THE DEAL