Were Six Soldiers Really Killed Because Of Bergdahl Search? Not So Clear

Look, I've talked to Vietnam vets who still insist "guys I know" got spat on in airports, yet we have no record of such a thing ever being reported. I'll take what these guys say with a large grain of salt -- just as the New York Times is doing:

The first two deaths the critics link to Sergeant Bergdahl involved a major assault by insurgents on a combat outpost called Zerok on July 4, 2009. Their view is that the Taliban knew the Americans were stretched thin by the search mission and took advantage of that opportunity to try to overrun it.

Mr. Bethea, the soldier who wrote the essay in The Daily Beast, said the company executive officer for the unit at Zerok believed that “the attack would not have happened had his company received its normal complement of intelligence aircraft: drones, planes, and the like. Instead, every intelligence aircraft available in theater had received new instructions: find Bergdahl. My friend blames Bergdahl for his soldiers’ deaths.”

Military officials, speaking in recent days, have countered that additional surveillance aircraft had been brought in from other areas to help in the search, so air traffic in the region was intensified, not diminished, by the search.

Separately, context supplied by the leaked logs complicates claims that insurgents attacked the outpost because of the hunt.

Insurgents had been shooting at the outpost with escalating intensity in the preceding months. A June 24 log described a mortar attack inside its perimeter and cited intelligence that insurgents were planning a “complex ambush” of the outpost.

And a log recounting the July 4 attack said it confirmed “recent reporting regarding Mullah Sangeen’s desire to conduct a spectacular attack” against the outpost. The log did not mention the hunt for Sergeant Bergdahl. Still, one soldier from Sergeant Bergdahl’s battalion said that response time after the attack had been slow, and argued the issue was not if the outpost was going to be attacked, but rather when insurgents chose to attack it.

The first and most intense phase of the search operation wound down after July 8. But former soldiers say and the logs show that the hunt continued sporadically as patrols were sent out to chase rumors that Sergeant Bergdahl had been spotted.


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The other six American deaths in Paktika that summer occurred from Aug. 18 to Sept. 5, which Sergeant Bergdahl’s critics link to him as well.

“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.

Mr. Bethea wrote that of the six men killed in August and September, two died in a roadside bombing while on a reconnaissance mission, a third was shot during a search for a Taliban political leader and three others were killed while conducting patrols — two in an ambush and one who stepped on a mine.

He suggested some connection to Sergeant Bergdahl for several of the deaths, saying the Taliban leader and a village that was in the area of one of the patrols were “thought affiliated with Bergdahl’s captors.” He also said a village in the areas of the other patrol was “near the area where Bergdahl vanished.”

Still, those villages and insurgents were in the overall area of responsibility for the soldiers, and the logs make clear that the region was an insurgent hotbed. A log on May 21, 2009, for example, said it had historically been a “safe haven” for the Taliban.

A retired senior American military officer, who was briefed at the time on the search for Sergeant Bergdahl, said that even though soldiers were instructed to watch for signs of the missing American, they would have been conducting patrols and performing risky operations anyway.

“Look, it’s not like these soldiers would have been sitting around their base,” he said.

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.”

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