Monday, July 20, 2009

Video of American POW in Afghanistan Released by Afghan Taliban

American prisoner of war (POW) held by the Afghan Taliban, Bowe Bergdahl

The Afghan Taliban released a video yesterday of Private Bowe Bergdahl, 23, a soldier in the First Battalion of the U.S. 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fourth Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division who was captured on July 3 with three Afghan Army soldiers, undergoing questioning by an unseen man with excellent spoken English. In the video, Pvt. Bergdahl says that his unit was stationed in Paktika Province (southeastern Afghanistan), and that he was captured after "lagging behind" in a patrol. The video, as of yet, has not been posted to all of the major Salafi jihadi forums.


Who currently is holding him is debated, but some believe he is being held by the Taliban faction commanded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a powerful Afghan militia leader allied with al-Qa'ida "Central" who maintains a widespread base of support in Waziristan, where Pvt. Bergdahl may have been moved to.

Jalaluddin Haqqani

In the text of the thread, in which which links to free online file-share web sites where the video has been loaded are included, part of the accompanying text (not a literal, word-for-word translation) identifies him as a prisoner of war:

"The captured American soldier is in fine and excellent health and has been treated with dignity, according to the regulations of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] for prisoners of war..."

The "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" is the name adopted by the Taliban for the country in the 1990s, which they continue to use. An emirate in Arabic is akin to a principality or fiefdom in English.

Paktika Province, Districts

Pvt. Bergdahl is shown well-clothed sitting on cushions, with a glass of tea, as he is being questioned. When asked to compare U.S. soldiers and Taliban fighters, he says that unlike U.S. soldiers, who carry the latest technology and advanced weaponry, the Taliban have only the clothes on their backs, an "AK-47," and extra ammunition, which makes them "stronger." The Taliban is claiming that it treats prisoners of war much more humanely than the U.S. military, which has arrested hundreds of Afghans and held them for long periods of time, and its Afghan allies, such as the brutal warlord 'Abdul Rashid Dostum, who stands accused of murdering hundreds of Taliban and other prisoners in 2001. News of these allegations was just reported by the U.S. and international press, which proves that the Taliban, like al-Qa'ida "Central" and its affiliates, closely monitors world news, which it then uses to design its media releases.

'Abdul Rashid Dostum

When asked if the U.S. government is purposefully hiding the true casualty figures, he says "yes," he thinks so because release of the "real" figures would lower support at home for the war in Afghanistan. He also says at one point during the questioning (around the 14:40-minute mark) that Americans are "misinformed and lied to" about current events in Afghanistan. It must be mentioned that Pvt. Bergdahl, as a Taliban prisoner, was/is likely under pressure, either external or internal, to provide answers favorable to his captors.

ABC News reported that, "A Department of Defense official told ABC News on Friday that if it hadn't been for the BBC reporting on the missing soldier on July 2, the military would have kept the capture quiet. The goal, he said, was to minimize the amount of information that might get back to his captors that might influence the military's search and recovery. "

Image of a leaflet being handed out to Afghans by the U.S. military from CBS News, which reports that the military denies that it is a threat to Afghan civilians, 900+ of whom have been killed in U.S. airstrikes and military operations. This leaflet is just as corny and ridiculously hilarious as much of the jihadi cyber art.

After being captured, he was moved from Paktika Province to Kandahar, the heartland of the Taliban and home to its leader, the elusive Mullah Muhammad 'Umar (Omar), according to the unseen questioner. ABC News is reporting that unidenfitied "sources" involved in the intensive search for Pvt. Bergdahl and the three Afghan soldiers have said that he may have been taken into South Waziristan in Pakistan's North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP), a hub for the Afghan Taliban and its Pakistan Pashtun allies. Taliban power grew by leaps and bounds under the leadership of Nek Muhammad who challenged and even assassinated Waziri Pashtun tribal leaders who opposed him and the Taliban. He was assassinated himself in June 2004 in a an airstrike claimed by the Pakistani military but believed to have been actually carried out by the U.S. military with Pakistani government agreement.

Waziri Pashtun jihadi Nek Muhammad, the subject of an excellent PBS Frontline documentary

When asked who controlled the considerable area between the two provinces, Pvt. Bergdahl replies, "no one," confirming what everyone already knows: vast swaths of the country, essentially all those areas outside of U.S. or NATO military control, which is limited primarily to Kabul and a few other large military bases and urban centers, are outside of the control of the Afghan central government of President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. and NATO military forces.

Jihadi Cyber mural

Pvt. Bergdahl is specifically asked about President Obama's "new" strategy for the
"good" war in Afghanistan:

"Does Obama have any new strategy to win the war in Afghanistan?"

"No, he has nothing new other than to increase the troops in Afghanistan, which only increases the violence, the fighting, and the hatred of the people here, and of those American soldiers. I am one of the new soldiers that is sent over here, and it didn't take me very long to realize that the only thing it is accomplishing is more casualties of American soldiers. And I am not alone in my thoughts. My fellow soldiers, my friends that I fight with, they all agree when I say, 'This is a waste. We should not be here, and we know it. This is accomplishing nothing. We understand this. It's a waste of American lives and of American money. We know that we shouldn't be here, and we just want to go home. That is what we think."


Pvt. Bergdahl was asked about the recent U.S. military campaign in Helmand Province, the subject of a cyber mural that I found recently while conducting research for my current project. The text reads, from right to left (as Arabic, Persian, and many other Islamicate languages are read): "Helmand: Graveyard of the Crusaders....With God's permission, you will not leave except to Hell."

"What's your message to your government, what should they do for your release?"

"My message to my government is to remove Americans from Afghanistan because that's not where we belong. I am an American, I'm not an Afghan, and I don't belong here. My country's first concern should be its people and its own country. We can't go around fixing other countries or trying to fix other countries when we haven't removed our own problems. When our country is failing, we can't help anyone else. I'm an American and my government should hold my concern above all else, as well as all the other Americans that are over here. Their concern should be for all of their lives."

The U.S. government has condemned the video as a violation of the international laws of war, which it is (using a prisoner of war-POW as a propaganda tool, which the video clearly does). Of course, the U.S. government under the previous president and continuing under Barack Obama has continued practices questioned and seen by other nations and many Americans as in violation of the same laws of war. It is also alleged that it turned a blind eye in the winter of 2001 when its Afghan Northern Alliance allies massacred hundreds of prisoners. The U.S. government also permitted filming and broadcasting of footage of captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Husayn in December 2004, which was then also criticized for being a violation of the same laws.

Nonetheless, violations do not justify other violations. The Taliban video is a clear violation of the international laws and norms of warfare. The Taliban has also massacred prisoners and civilians, such as hundreds of Hazara Afghans in 1998, during its campaigns in the mid-1990s to conquer all of Afghanistan. Toward the end of the video, the unseen questioner asks a rather disgusting question for propaganda effect concerning Pvt. Bergdahl's family. He lists members of his immediate family such as his parents and sister, and his "girlfriend that I'm hoping to marry," and then, beginning to choke up, says:

"I miss them every day that I'm gone. I miss them, and I'm afraid that I may never see them again and that I'll never be able to tell them that I love them again, that I'll never be able to hug them."

You stay classy, Taliban.

Summary Taliban "justice" in Pakistan...Who are the victims? Other Muslims.

When asked about what message he has for Americans, he says:

"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 the American people have that power."

Pvt. Bergdahl is asked about what he knows about Islam, to which he replies that he knows little. His interrogator/questioner asks whether he plans to learn more about Islam, to which he gives the admirable response, presuming it was his own, that according to his morals, he has been taught that one cannot judge something before really knowing something about it. He finishes by saying that yes, he does plan on learning more about Islam. One hopes that he discovers that Islam and Muslims are much broader than the simplistic and militant interpretation practiced by the Taliban and its allies, both foreign and domestic. Afghan Muslims were the ones who suffered under the Taliban for years before September 11, 2001. The Taliban and AQC do not represent the vast majority of Muslims.

The video closes with Pvt. Bergdahl eating a full meal, presumably provided by his captors.

View the video.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is very intersting. I am currently taking an Introductory course in Islam. I am glad I stumbled upon it.

As far as the young soldier is concerned, he is a PFC Private First Class and the knowlege provided to him was compartmentalized. In other words he will only have a tiny piece of the pie where military operations are concerned. How the US military does business might be of value.

His words to American is pure propoganda. I don't think you would find one American that doesn't feel that way.

He looks hungry to me by the way he is eating. Not just having eaten four hours ago kind of hungery.

If he was escorted in and then sat down I might believe he could stand. I am not so sure otherwise. His captors are not known for justice.

There was a leader in the last century that was ignored and not taken seriously in the early 1920's but twenty years later his regime clamed the lives of over 6 million. What the human race has done and will continure to do in the name of the creator of heaven and earth.

إبن الصقلي said...

Thanks for reading and for your kind words. I appreciate it.

Your observations re: the video are ones that I did not think of myself.

I agree re: propaganda. Of course, propaganda is being produced by all parties whenever politics are concerned.

As for his value, I don't think that his captors really expect(ed) him to have detailed knowledge of military matters. His value, to be frank, is that of a prop for psychological warfare, propaganda, and persuasion.

Christina said...

This blog looks interesting; I found it through a google alert which I only checked due to the nice Arabic, I assume, writing.
There's so much garbage being written by Americans that I normally don't bother to read press reports not to mention blogs on topics such as the current situations regarding Afghanistan and Iran, favorite areas of mine.
Glad you're supporting the Palestinians!
It seems like the Western world has gotten so deluded that it can't see truth anywhere at all.

Regarding this post, I was glad to hear a more full version. Though of course coached, nonetheless, one feels the private is saying what he really thinks about the uselessness of the American war effort in Afghanistan. All that part rings true: I bet other soldiers feel the same.
But no one back home is allowed to hear about this questioning of the military mission or the lack of morale.

I interviewed Soviet prisoners of the Afghan mujahideen for an article for The Christian Science Monitor, and they said the same!
They also talked openly and in detail about much worse practises of the Red Army. But they felt exactly the same as this American: what is my country doing in Afghanistan and what am I here for when all I do is bomb and kill civilians?!
The Soviet prisoners said they had been told they would fight Americans, Chinese, etc. in Afghanistan, but when they arrived, they saw there were none.

American soldiers were told that they are fighting al-Qaida, but suffice to say that Afghans fight the U.S. military forces simply because they are occupying their country, not because Afghans of any stripe plan bombing attacks on American cities, as is the image conveyed by the propaganda.

About the food, I traveled with the mujahideen quite a bit and know their ways. These are the same people today. Pashtun tribesmen feed ANYONE and always give the best of their food available to a foreigner. The fact is that they are poor and have little but plain bread or rice to offer. But if there's one egg or one onion for flavoring to be found in a 5 mile range, it will be summoned and presented to the foreign guest! Even a prisoner is considered a guest.
I think he is weak from anxiety rather than hunger.

It's clear to me from the ambiance that the captors do like this private. He probably confided the truth about what his misgivings, and they didn't waste a minute to exploit maximum value from his presence with them.
I doubt he's with Siraj Haqqani.
I would say consolingly that I don't feel his life in danger. He might be held for awhile, but I suspect the worst he will suffer besides deep anguish is protein deprivation and flea bites.

إبن الصقلي said...


Thanks very much sharing your insights, analysis, and for your kind words. They are all much appreciated.

I think that many of these local groups have a myriad of elements within them. There are elements of the Afghan Taliban (or groups called "Taliban" by the U.S. and NATO) who are willing to enter negotiations, as there were/are elements within the Iraqi insurgency (which I set apart from the largely foreign Salafi jihadi groups like al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers and the groups under the umbrella of the "Islamic State of Iraq"). Another case in point was the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia, which included both a Salafi jihadi branch and a branch composed mostly of Somali Sufis. The Sufis by and large sat out the winter 2006 fighting between the Ethiopias/Somali interim government and the Salafi jihadi faction of the UIC, which has reformed into Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahidin.

I do think that there are also elements of these "local" groups who have adopted a Salafi jihadi, or similar, ideology that transcends local concerns or resistance against foreign occupation.

Again, thanks for taking the time to share your experiences and insights here!

Christina said...

Thanks! I'm going to peruse "back issue" of the blog when time permits, as I'm quite interested in Shias, Sufis and Salafis as well. [Though I know nothing about Ethiopia, Somalia, etc.]

Afghans, mostly the Dari Persian speaking population, are predominantly Sufi whether consciously or unconsciously: Maulana Jelaluddin Rumi was born in their city of Balkh, and his spirit pervades the country to this day. Afghans seek the Masnavi for edification, not Muslim Brotherhood tracts.

But starting with the 1980s political figure Rasul Sayyaf, the Salafi influence started to impact, causing widespread alarm amongst Afghan refugees. This man handed out Saudi money to win followers, but never did a bit of fighting in the jihad against the Soviets.
I am not equipped to assess how deeply the Salafi approach has taken root over the decades since, but I suspect that Afghans have rallied around anyone who would get out the foreign occupation troops, which they hate, no matter who it is. If the Saudis occupied Afghanistan it would be almost the same!
There IS a minority of True Believers in the jihadi ideology. However I feel certain that once American troops left, support for these groups would ebb, as that ideology has never scraped past surface level. It's mostly gained adherents out of what is perceived as dire necessity.
After I finished reading this post, I saw an article in the Abu Dhabi paper, The National, quoting an Afghan shopkeeper, Mohammad Sayef, as saying that ALL Afghans want the US to leave.
The fact is, that few clear statement like this ever filter out to the American public. But it's apparent to most all Afghans that the US & NATO occupation has been a severe disaster for their country. Not only has nothing been improved for them, but the situation is far worse than before.
The U.S., pursuing some highly mysterious goals of its own, is purposely deaf to the widespread outcry.
So it's small wonder that these fighters, who are wily but not sophisticated as to what approach will strike the right chord with the American people or government, grab any opportunity they can to try to get attention.

The attitude of nearly all the various "Taliban" splinter groups is: No Negotations, Just Leave Afghanistan.
So, all this breathless official talk about who will and who won't negotiate is pie in the sky. For the opponents of the American invasion don't feel any inclination to acknowledge the U.S. as in control of their country: there's the question of pride & chessmanship.

Whichever Afghan resistance personalities who WOULD agree to negotiate with the U.S. are only going to be inconsequential types, with little stature or following.
The most fierce and stubborn fighters dismiss the notion with scorn and vow to keep fighting on.
The Soviets gave up after 10 years; the US should have learned from their lesson and not invaded. At the very least, exited much earlier with less loss of face. But certainly they should go before the 10-year mark is reached!
It's shocking to me that even the former Communist Russian diplomats and generals who were closely involved with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan have tried in vain to give the U.S. apparently well-intentioned-warnings that the U.S> has blindly repeated the Soviet blunders, military and otherwise.
If the U.S. really cares what the Afghan people want, it could resolve the situation not by phony negotiations that will never achieve anything anyhow, but by gracefully packing up and leaving the country, proclaiming to save face that they are yielding to the will of the Afghan people!

إبن الصقلي said...

Please do continue to contribute your insights as time permits. I, and all those who read them, will benefit from them. Sincerely.

Your analysis meshes almost precisely with a professor of mine at Indiana U., a native Afghan.

"Negotiate" was a poor word choice on my part. What I really meant to write was that most groups do not, as you point out, adhere to the Salafi jihadi ideology (including most Salafis) and are rather "nationalist" groups with set goals. In other words, they have reasonable goals (to free their lands from foreign occupation) and are not driven blindly by ideology, like the AQ types, who would continue to fight even if a given territory was freed.

Christina said...

Well thanks, very nice of you!
Who is your professor? I recall one Afghan intellectual who emigrated to Bloomington, Indiana with whom I corresponded for a few years. But I imagine he might be elderly by now. Perhaps there's an Afghan community there?

It's heart-warming to hear of Afghans who agree with my perspective! Their voices have been squashed by the huge corporate media machine, it's tragic.
Even when quoted briefly in articles, the words seem put into their mouths. Only in that recent Abu Dhabi paper, did I notice one or two authentic sounding quotations. That same shopkeeper mentioned, Mohammad Sayef, appends "God Willing" to his statement, as Afghans habitually do.
Also, he says something like "The way to finish fighting is not by fighting". The use of the word "finish" is exactly the way Afghans speak in English.

[He meant apparently that sending in foreign armies to vanquish the country militarily is not going to stop any sort of fighting, whether internecine Afghan turmoil or purported Al-Qaida operations]

So even when what is ubiquitously called "an ordinary Afghan" - what a term! - is interviewed, his words do not remotely resonate as how Afghans speak, so how can readers trust the point of view supposedly expressed in the American news reports? These seem perhaps sculpted specifically to justify the war effort there.

I have a lot to say, but one point right off the bat is that I was glancing quickly back through this post and saw for the first time the writeup beneath that flyer. Yes, the artwork is ridiculous, but too: it's so bully-like, showing brute force to intimidate Afghans into submission to whatever the U.S. decides it wants that day, that the flyer could almost symbolize the entire American war effort in Afghanistan.

Honestly, while of course feeling sorry for the captive--- though one doesn't know the full story, how he may have walked away on his own in disgust--- why should even one Afghan be expected to sympathize with a lost American soldier when probably thousands of their own people have been callously killed by cold-blooded American bombing raids?

Only very late in the game have American commanders mustered big smiles, asserting insincerely at best: "We're here to bring security to the Afghan people and we want to work with them".

Brutal posters of heavily armed, intimidating GI's kicking in the doors of fragile mud houses is not the way to earn a drop of respect. It might "work" in some other country but not one with Afghanistan's spirit and strong backbone. Most Afghans would prefer to be left in peace in their own ways of life than to have the fanciest highway system in the world installed by Americans! They can't be bought which such offers; they have other values.
In fact, there's nothing Americans can do to make them happy = except leave!
Even the Afghan regime officials and their associates who outwardly give bright smiles back to American occupation authorities in reality dislike them and grumble behind their backs. That's the very least; none should be surprised that some actively give help to the resistance!

The Soviets found exactly the same mechanics in their radish Communist ruling elite. [Red on the outside, white anti-Communist on the inside, i.e. superficially a comrade, but internally a fairly traditional Afghan. Not a Russian atheist, nor an American democrat, but an independent-minded Muslim, at least culturally.]

Let's say the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of the 80s to kick out the Red Army. That was when they were needed by Afghans. THEN Americans would have been welcomed with faces wreathed in true smiles; Americans would have become heroes in the popular Afghan imagination and immortalized in folk history.

PROVIDED the U.S. left after that welcome liberation from the Communist yoke!

إبن الصقلي said...

My professor is Prof. M. Nazif Shahrani

There is, somewhat surprisingly (at least to me), a fairly large Afghan-American population in Bloomington, IN (considering it's your typical small, rural college town). There are even two Afghan restaurants in town.

I have seen discussion of the haziness of the situation of Pvt. Bergdahl's capture. Some have said that he left the base and wasn't captured on duty. Some loons have even inferred that it would be "easier" "for us" if the Taliban simply executes him "if" he is a deserter:

Ralph Peters, Loon, on Captured Soldier

Radish allies....I like it!

إبن الصقلي said...

I should mention, Prof. Shahrani is working on his next book (on post-Taliban Afghanistan). He's a big proponent of involving local communities in their own governance, as he argues persuasively that they, more so than the central government and certainly foreigners, know best what is needed in their communities.