Did Soldiers Die Searching for Bergdahl? NY Times Says It's Murky, Soldiers Say It's Not

The NY Times weighed in on the Bergdahl story Tuesday, questioning whether or not soldiers died searching for him in the summer of 2009. The Times says the answer is “murky,” but multiple soldiers who were there have all told the same story of being sent out on dangerous missions aimed at finding him.

The Times, relying on leaked military documents released by Pvt. Manning, doesn’t so much say that the documents contradict the eyewitness as that they don’t specifically connect soldier’s deaths to the hunt for Bergdahl:

“You see a lot of anger because we lost guys not only at
Zerok, but a decent amount of good guys looking” for him, said a soldier
from his unit who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Where
those events are identifiable in the logs, they do not mention any link
to Bergdahl search operations, although the logs are terse and contain
few contextual details.

The logs are indeed “terse.” You can see an example here. And yet, at least four people who were in Paktika that summer have said that the ongoing search for Bergdahl played a role in 6-8 deaths that followed his walking off base. In fact, an unnamed soldier is quoted by the NY Times at the tail end of this article saying just that:

The soldier who spoke on condition of anonymity agreed that
it was “ludicrous” to lay 100 percent of the blame for the deaths at
Sergeant Bergdahl’s feet, and he acknowledged that patrols were going to
get hit in Paktika during fighting season anyway.

But,
he said, the reason he and his colleagues are angry is that too often
that summer, the purpose of their patrols into dangerous areas was not
ordinary wartime work like reconnaissance, maintaining a security
presence, or humanitarian projects, but rather “to go look for this
guy.”

That’s just one example. In an excellent piece published yesterday, Michelle Malkin quotes another unidentified soldier who told her:

Combat Outpost Zerok was just one of several small outposts
attacked that day while 4-25(A) was spread very thin searching for PFC
Bergdahl. There is no doubt his actions led to these coordinated
attacks, and without his desertion PFCs Casillas and Fairbairn would not
have given their lives that day.

[…]

A few days later we (FTF) conducted a daylight raid on some tents
looking for PFC Bergdahl. We took heavy small arms and RPG fire on
approach and ran off the CH-47s in contact. Our entire element engaged
the enemy, who turned out to be a Taliban shadow governor and his
bodyguards…Multiple people died that day…All of this happened
because PFC Bergdahl got tired of playing soldier. The remainder of that
deployment was focused on recovery efforts. Countless members of the
brigade were wounded and we lost good friends, among them PFC Matthew Martinek and 2LT Darryn Andrews. I have no doubt these great men would be alive if PFC Bergdahl did not leave.

Yesterday, Sgt. Evan Buetow, who was Bergdahl’s teal leader, told Jake Tapper, “For 60 days or more, I remember, just straight, all we did was search for Bergdahl. Tapper’s story adds “At least six soldiers were killed in subsequent searches for him, according to soldiers involved in those operations.” Note it’s clear he’s simply relying on Buetow for this point since “soldiers involved” is plural.

Finally, two days ago another member of Bergdahl’s battalion, Nathan Bethea, wrote this at the Daily Beast:

Though the 2009 Afghan presidential election slowed the search for
Bergdahl, it did not stop it. Our battalion suffered six fatalities in a
three-week period. On August 18, an IED killed Private First Class Morris Walker and Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen
during a reconnaissance mission. On August 26, while conducting a
search for a Taliban shadow sub-governor supposedly affiliated with
Bergdahl’s captors, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss
was shot in the face and killed. On September 4, during a patrol to a
village near the area in which Bergdahl vanished, an insurgent ambush
killed Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews and gravely wounded Private First Class Matthew Martinek,
who died of his wounds a week later. On September 5, while conducting a
foot movement toward a village also thought affiliated with Bergdahl’s
captors, Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey stepped on an improvised land mine. He died the next day.

That’s at least four soldiers (more depending on how many Tapper spoke to) who were there after Bergdahl’s desertion. All of them tell the same story about what happened. As Sgt. Buetow admitted to Jake Tapper, no one can prove those 6-8 deaths would never have happened if not for Bergdahl’s desertion. Still, it does seem odd for the NY Times to suggest that “terse” reports somehow undercut the fuller recollection of the people who were there.

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