By Melanie Batley
The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who left his guard post in Afghanistan and was taken captive by the Taliban for five years, has stirred resentment and raised questions among the families of the fallen soldiers who died in the search for him.
“Basically, my son died unnecessarily, hunting for a guy that we shouldn’t even have been hunting for,” Robert Andrews, the father of Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews who lost his life in the search, told Reuters.
Bergdahl’s team leader, Sgt. Evan Buetow, who described Bergdahl as a “deserter,” said he walked away from his post, leaving behind his flak jacket and without weapons, after making statements that he sympathized with the Afghans and indicated he didn’t have faith in the U.S. efforts in the country and wanted to leave the military.
Andrews’ mother, Sondra, said Bergdahl’s return has stirred “very raw emotions.”
“It gets really hurtful when I think, this guy was worth my son’s life? My son who was patriotic? Who was a true soldier? Who defended his country with his life?” Andrews told Army Times.
“That guy was worth that? I don’t think so.”
Private First Class Matthew Martinek died alongside Andrews when their vehicle was hit by a bomb and rocket-propelled grenade during their search. His family says they want answers as to why the mission to rescue him was ordered.
“This opens up the wounds again,” Kenneth Luccioni, Martinek’s stepfather, told Reuters. “There were a lot of people who risked their lives for this young man, and we want the truth.”
Andrews’ family had been told by the Army that he had died in an ambush during a mission to capture a top Taliban commander, The Daily Beast reported.
Both families said they heard by word of mouth from other soldiers months afterwards that their sons had died during the manhunt for Bergdahl.
The father of another soldier who died in the search for Bergdahl is outraged that they were sent on a mission to find him.
“It’s just disgraceful that [President Barack] Obama would trade five high-level Taliban officers for this guy who basically defected,” said Bob Curtiss, father of Sgt. Kurt Curtiss, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
“Leave him there,” Curtiss said. “That was his choice, his decision.”
Six soldiers reportedly lost their lives searching for Bergdahl. But, the Pentagon has refused to confirm whether the manhunt for Bergdahl was the direct cause of the soldiers’ deaths, and President Barack Obama has said regardless of the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, the military had an obligation to search for him.
“Whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” Obama said during a news conference in Poland, according to the Associated Press. “We don’t condition that.”
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday it is unfair to the Bergdahl family for people to make conclusions about his behavior while in service.
“We don’t do that in the United States,” Hagel told reporters at a NATO defense ministers meeting. “We rely on facts.”
Hagel said the Army will conduct a review of the circumstances surrounding how Bergdahl left his unit, adding, “I don’t know of any circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to get Bergdahl.”
Separate to the outrage over allegations that lives were lost in Bergdahl’s search, some lawmakers, including Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, said that the release of the Taliban detainees will put American lives at risk.
“It’s deeply disturbing because these individuals are the hard-core Taliban who will be going to a country where they will roam freely,” he told Newsmax. “Even if they’re restrained there, they’re free to return to Afghanistan in a year â€” and they pose a great threat to the lives of the men and women who are serving.
“It is a significant and real threat.”
Meanwhile, congressional lawmakers are demanding hearings into the administration’s failure to notify Congress about the release within the required 30 days. The administration argued it was an emergency decision because Bergdahl’s health was deteriorating, but has since issued an apology to some lawmakers for the “oversight.”
There is also widespread concern about the possible precedent set by “negotiating with terrorists,” and the likelihood that the freed detainees will return to the battlefield for more violence linked to al-Qaida.