WASHINGTON (AP) — Critics of the U.S. government's nearly five-year effort to seek the release of the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan claim the work suffers from disorganization and poor communication among numerous federal agencies involved, leaving his captors unclear which U.S. officials have the authority to make a deal.
The shrinking U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan has refocused attention on efforts to bring home Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, of Hailey, Idaho, who has been held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009.
About two dozen officials at the State and Defense departments, the military's U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Special Operations Command, the CIA and FBI are working the case — most of them doing it alongside their other duties, a defense official said.
Bergdahl's captors are anxious to release him, according to a defense official and a military officer, who both spoke to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
"Elements in all echelons — from the top of the Taliban down to the folks holding Bergdahl — are reaching out to make a deal," the defense official said.
The military officer said the effort was marred by distrust on both sides. Those holding Bergdahl have indicated what they would be willing to do to prove to the U.S. government that they want to deal, but the U.S. has not formally responded to that outreach, the military officer said.
The White House and U.S. military officials deny that the effort is disjointed, claim Bergdahl's release remains a top priority and that the government is using diplomatic, military, intelligence and all other means to free him.
Bergdahl, 28, was last seen in a "proof of life" video released in December. He is thought to be held by members of the Haqqani network, which operates in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region and has been one of the deadliest threats to U.S. troops in the war. The Haqqani network, which the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012, claims allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, yet operates with some degree of autonomy.