ISLAMABAD – A U.S. soldier held by Afghan militants will not be harmed despite the Obama administration’s decision to declare his alleged captors a terrorist group, a senior member of the Pakistan-based Haqqani network told the Associated Press on Saturday. However, the United States and NATO can expect stepped-up attacks, he said.
The commander, who spoke by telephone from an undisclosed location, denied that the Haqqanis held the only American prisoner of war of the Afghan conflict, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, as the U.S. believes. He did, however, say that Bergdahl was a captive of another branch of the Taliban, and denied earlier reports that the 26-year-old soldier from Hailey, Idaho, was in danger.
“I deny the remarks … that this will endanger the life of the American soldier,” the commander said, speaking on condition he not be identified because field commanders fear being targeted if their identities are known.
“We are not cowards and we consider it as coward to harm prisoners,” he said.
The U.S. says that Bergdahl has been held by the Pakistan-based Haqqanis since 2009. However, the commander suggested he was with militants on the other side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
“The American soldier is with the Emirate center (a reference to Taliban based inside Afghanistan) … The Americans also know it.”
He said the Taliban leadership council previously issued instructions to its commanders, including those belonging to the Haqqani network, not to harm prisoners.
From his home in Idaho, the soldier’s father, Bob Bergdahl, welcomed the assurances but was cautious.
“That’s great news, but we’re very careful about the information we digest,” he told the AP. “I’ll have to validate that and check that.”
Yet the Haqqani commander said the network is planning a series of retaliatory attacks against U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the organization’s military commander, is seeking permission from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to stage a blitzkrieg of attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he said.