Two former comrades of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have confirmed to MailOnline that their former platoon-mate walked away from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009 with the intention of reneging on his military oath.
‘I’m positive that he’s a deserter, and that it was all premeditated,’ said Gerald Sutton, a 31-year-old Michigan college student who left the military in September 2012 and said he was ‘a good friend’ of Bergdahl when they were deployed to the Middle East.
A Pentagon investigation established in 2010 that on that Tuesday, Bergdahl abandoned his platoon in a war zone near the Pakistan border while serving with the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
The Idaho native’s disappearance led to an all-hands-on-deck manhunt in Afghanistan’s Paktika Province, as thousands of troops were diverted to rescue a man who left the safety of his outpost with his eyes open.
‘He wasn’t out on some patrol one day and got captured by the Taliban, and nobody smuggled him off of the base,’ explained Cody Full, a 25-year-old former infantryman who spoke with MailOnline from Houston, Texas.
Full, too, was in Bergdahl’s unit. And he’s anguished at the thought that at least six soldiers died on missions to find him in the early, frantic months after he went missing.
‘This soldier knew what he was doing,’ Full said. ‘He left us. He willingly and premeditatedly deserted his comrades. And he put his team, his squad, his platoon, his company, and thousands of other American soldiers in Afghanistan at a very high risk trying to find him.’
‘If he didn’t desert, and he was still in the platoon, those soldiers would not have been in the locations where they were killed … because they wouldn’t have been out there looking for him.’
Sutton said he ‘felt like I was in immediate danger all the time’ after Bergdahl left. ‘All of us did. We were sent out for about 30 to 35 days straight looking for him.’
‘And there were plenty of other people. I mean, the complete 501st [Infantry Regiment] was pulled out of there to search.’
‘It was a betrayal to me, because he was my – I considered him a pretty good friend,’ Sutton said.
‘So it’s always been, I’ve always wanted to ask him, face-to-face, “Why did you do it, man?”
This startling development comes as it was claimed that soldiers in Berghdal’s platoon were made to sign a highly unusual non disclosure agreement covering his disappearance in an apparent attempt to cover-up what happened.
Bergdahl spent nearly five years on one side or the other of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, secreted away by militants loyal to the Haqqani network, an al-Qaeda-related insurgent group that’s allied with the Taliban.
His life before and during his military enlistment has been under a high-powered microscope since President Barack Obama announced on Saturday that he had been handed over to U.S. Special Forces as part of a deal to release five high-value Taliban terror targets held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Most accounts describe a soft-hearted Beetle Bailey-type, a former ballet-dancing infantryman who seemed incapable of developing the hard exterior necessary for survival in combat.
But Full described Bergdahl in a different way. The two met when they arrived to join their unit at Fort Richardson near Anchorage, Alaska.