WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A military investigation after Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s disappearance found that he had walked away from his post without permission at least once before but that his fellow soldiers failed to report it, CBS News has learned.
His unit members told investigators that Bergdahl had talked about wanting to explore Afghanistan, and exhibited behavior that some considered strange.
Matt Vierkant, a team leader of another squad in Bergdahl’s platoon, told The Associated Press that Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers knew within five or 10 minutes from the discovery of disappearance that he had walked away. In retrospect the signs were there, he said, but there was nothing so definitive that would have prompted action.
“He said some strange things, like, ‘I could get lost in those mountains,’ which, at the time, that doesn’t really strike you as someone who is going to leave their weapon and walk out.”
Bergdahl walked away from his outpost in eastern Afghanistan on the night of June 30, 2009 after neatly stacking his equipment.
His unit established that Bergdahl was captured within 30 minutes after wandering off.
A retired Army commander tells CBS News that military and intelligence operations “dramatically increased” for weeks after Bergdahl left his Army post.
A reported six soldiers were killed looking for Bergdahl but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that he has not seen any evidence linking soldiers’ deaths to Bergdahl’s disappearance.
A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 that the evidence was “incontrovertible” that he walked away from his unit, said a former Pentagon official who has read it.
The military investigation was broader than a criminal inquiry, this official said, and it didn’t formally accuse Bergdahl of desertion. In interviews as part of the probe, members of his unit portrayed him as a naive, “delusional” person who thought he could help the Afghan people by leaving his Army post, said the official, who was present for the interviews.
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the Army may still pursue desertion charges against Bergdahl.
Bergdahl is currently in stable condition at a U.S. military hospital in Germany following the exchange for five high-level Taliban members who were being held at Guantanamo Bay. Bergdahl will eventually continue his reitegration process at a medical facility in San Antonio.
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)