KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – A Taliban video of a US soldier kidnapped outside his base in southern Afghanistan nearly three weeks ago may prove to be a valuable bargaining chip for his kidnappers, according to analysts here.
The soldier, named by the Pentagon today as Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl of Ketchum, Idaho, has been missing since June 30. According to the US military, he was taken while outside his base in southern Paktika province, a restive region that shares a border with North Waziristan in Pakistan.
He appears shaven-headed and is seen wearing a traditional shalwar kameez in the video (see below), appearing emotional and nervous throughout its 28-minute duration.
“I have my girlfriend who I’m hoping to marry, I have my grandma and grandpas," he says. "I have a very, very good family back in America, and I miss them everyday that I’m gone. I miss them, and I’m afraid that I might never see them again, and I’ll never be able to tell them that I love them again, I’ll never be able to hug them.”
After being prompted by one of his captors, he adds: “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.”
Bergdahl's father, Bob, issued the following statement through the Defense Department:
"We hope and pray for our son's safe return to his comrades and then to our family, and we appreciate all the support and expressions of sympathy shown to us by our family members, our friends and others across the nation.... Thank you, and please continue to keep Bowe in your thoughts and prayers."
Haqqani network suspected
The area the kidnapping took place suggests it is most likely the work of the Haqqani network, “who are not traditional Taliban, they’re more strongly associated with Al Qaeda,” says Haroun Mir, Director of Afghanistan’s Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS) in Kabul.
The Haqqani network is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, dubbed by analysts as a “terrorist mastermind” who has been linked with a number of the most high-profile terrorist attacks in Afghanistan over the past two years.
According to Mr. Mir, the video is “a classic case of Al Qaeda propaganda” as the group imitates psychological tactics employed by insurgents in Iraq to great effect.
First US soldier taken in Afghanistan since 2001
Private Bergdahl is the first soldier to be taken in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.
“They may ask for the release of some Taliban from Bagram [prison]," says Fahim Dashty, editor of the Kabul Weekly. "As far as I know, in all the kidnapping in the last few years there was a deal either from the Afghan government or the international community. So it’s possible that another deal will take place."
Echoes of David Rohde
The kidnapping also has echoes of the abduction of David Rohde, the New York Times journalist who reportedly escaped from his captives earlier this month. (See Monitor coverage of the abduction and escape here.)
Though Mr. Rohde was captured in Logar province in Afghanistan, he was taken across the border and held in North Waziristan by the Haqqani network.
If he is taken across the border into Pakstan, any hopes for a rescue operation by authorities are severely diminished, says Prakhar Sharma, head of research at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul.
Talks through unofficial channels?
Analysts say that the best hope for Bergdahl is if the US decides to open up negotiations through “unofficial channels.”
A US military spokesman in Kabul, Capt. Jon Stock, told Reuters: “The use of the soldier for propaganda purposes we view as against international law. We are continuing to do whatever possible to recover the soldier safe and unharmed.”