Military logs show that Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl was in Taliban hands less than nine hours after he was reported missing from his outpost in Afghanistan, and they detail a scramble to find him, including armed drones, checkpoints and teams of dogs.
The logs, made public by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, also appear to show that Taliban militants signaled they were willing to trade Bergdahl back to the Army in exchange for cash and the freedom of 15 jailed Taliban.
The war logs have drawn new scrutiny since the Obama administration negotiated Bergdahl’s release, after five years in Taliban captivity, in exchange for five militants held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bergdahl was reported missing at 9 a.m. Afghan time on June 30, 2009, after he failed to show up for the morning roll call. Less than nine hours later, just after 5:30 p.m., U.S. forces received intelligence that a soldier had been captured, the logs show.
In the hours between, American forces mounted a furious search operation.
About half an hour after Bergdahl was reported missing, commanders ordered that “all vehicles, latrines, bunkers” be searched at his outpost. Predator drones and a team of tracking dogs were on the scene within hours.
U.S. forces raided what were believed to be militant hideouts. F-15 fighter jets were called in for air cover.
“It’s a frantic search all day,” said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst. “Everything stopped, basically, and they focused on this mission. They yanked every asset that was someplace else and brought it in.”
“It would have rung every bell,” he said. “I’ll bet you within three hours the (Defense Secretary) knew all about it and so did the White House war room.”
Just after 2:30 p.m., communications traffic showed that “an American soldier with a camera is looking for someone who speaks English.”
A soldier who was a team leader in Bergdahl’s platoon, Sgt. Evan Buetow, told CNN that Bergdahl, at some point in the days after he left his platoon, “was looking for someone who spoke English so he could talk to the Taliban.”
Buetow said that the platoon was “incredibly worried” that Bergdahl was giving information to the enemy.
“I heard it straight from the interpreter’s lips as he heard it over the radio,” Buetow said. “And at that point it was like, this is, this kind of snowballing out of control a little bit, there’s a lot more to this story than just a soldier walking away.”
Pentagon officials have said they cannot confirm that Bergdahl was looking for the Taliban. Buetow did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday from NBC News.
McCaffrey, the general, said that he was “99.999 percent” certain that the missing private sought out the Taliban, perhaps in an altered state of mind or with an altruistic thought toward helping Afghan children.
“I think he was out there looking to contact the Taliban, figuring they’d help him, and got the shock of this life,” McCaffrey said. “You can see from this traffic. They almost killed him.”
Indeed, on the following day, July 1, U.S. forces intercepted communications traffic in which an unidentified fighter says, “Cut the head off.”
That day, there was still no sign of the missing private. (Bergdahl was promoted twice in captivity in later years, to sergeant.) But the war logs describe an American intercept of a conversation between two apparent militants, talking about the captive.
“They know where he is, but they keep going to wrong area,” one says. The same apparent militant says later in the conversation: “I think he is big shot that [sic] why they are looking for him.”
On July 2, members of the American military met with Afghan elders who claimed to have been asked by the Taliban to negotiate a trade with Bergdahl.
“The Taliban terms are 15 of their Taliban brothers in U.S. jail and some money in exchange for Pvt. Bergdahl,” the logs say. “The elders assured me that Pvt. Bergdahl is alive and that he in [sic] not being harmed.”
After that exchange, the elders offer to connect the U.S. military with Bergdahl to demonstrate that he is unharmed, but the logs show that an American soldier “tried to get comms with no luck.”
Two days after that, on July 4, came the first reported sighting of a missing soldier in a nearby village: Bergdahl was reported to be wearing dark khaki, with a bag over his head, traveling in a black Toyota Corolla escorted by three to five motorcycles.
The tip failed to lead American forces to Bergdahl.