HAILEY, Idaho – Friends and family of an Idaho soldier who was captured in Afghanistan prayed for his safe return Sunday, shaken by the image of the frightened young private in a Taliban video posted online.
Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, was serving with an Alaska-based infantry regiment earlier this month when he vanished, just five months after arriving in Afghanistan. He was serving at a base near the border with Pakistan in an area known to be a Taliban stronghold.
Bergdahl is from Hailey, a town of about 7,000 people in central Idaho where he worked as a barista and was active in ballet. A sign that hangs in the window of Zaney’s River Street Coffee House says “Get Bowe Back,” and a message inside asks customers to “Join all of us at Zaney’s holding light for our friend.”
Sue Martin, owner of the coffee shop, said she knew Bergdahl as a free-spirited young man with blond hair who rode his bicycle everywhere in town and was keen to learn as much as he could about the world.
Bergdahl’s family issued a statement asking people to keep the soldier in their thoughts and prayers, but told the Associated Press they were asking that the media respect their privacy.
Neighbors and others in the community have known for weeks that Bergdahl had been captured, but said the family urged them not to talk about the kidnapping out of fear that publicity would compromise his safety.
In the video posted Saturday on a Web site pointed out by the Taliban, Bergdahl says his name and his hometown. The Pentagon confirmed his identity Sunday.
“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,” Bob Bergdahl, the soldier’s father, said in a statement issued through the Department of Defense.
Neighbors are abiding by the family’s wishes not to comment on the record about Bergdahl’s capture, but described the 23-year-old as an “adventurous” soul who was educated at home, danced ballet and took part in a sport fencing club, the Sun Valley Swords.
In the 28-minute video, Bergdahl said he was “scared I won’t be able to go home.” He said he was lagging behind a patrol when he was captured, which conflicts with earlier military accounts that indicated he walked off the base with three Afghans.
It wasn’t clear who initially captured Bergdahl, but the U.S. command in Afghanistan said he was being held by the Taliban and condemned the video as a violation of international law.
“I’m glad to see he appears unharmed, but again, this is a Taliban propaganda video,” spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker said. “They are exploiting the soldier in violation of international law.”
Bergdahl is a member of 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture weren’t clear.
On July 2, two U.S. officials told the AP the soldier had “just walked off” his base with three Afghans after his shift. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
On July 6, the Taliban claimed on their Web site that five days earlier a “drunken American soldier had come out of his garrison” and was captured by mujahedeen.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militants holding the soldier haven’t yet set any conditions for his release.