by Florian Flade
More than half a year since he appeared in a video for the last time, kidnapped U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl is featured in a new propaganda video released by the Afghan Taliban. Bergdahl, a 24 year-old from Idaho, was taken hostage by Taliban fighters on June 30th 2009 after he left his military outpost base in East Afghan province of Paktika. The Taliban of the Haqqani network claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and demanded money and the release of prisoners for Bergdahl´s release.
On July 18th 2009 the Taliban released the first of three videos showing their American hostage. Bergdahl was seen sitting in a room, eating and telling about his capture and his condition. The second hostage video titled “One of Their People Testified” was released in December 2009 and showed the U.S. soldier wearing his military uniform, sunglasses and a helmet, talking about U.S. foreign policy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Back in April of this year, the last proof of life video of Bowe Bergdahl appeared on the internet. This time the hostage soldier showed of a grown beard and is seen outside the buildings he is allegedly held in, doing some workout in front of the camera.
NATO responded by giving out a statement saying, using Bergdahl “as a means of propaganda is a deplorable act and only fuels our efforts to find him and bring him home”. Yet, all efforts finding Private Bergdahl did not produce any positive result. It is very likely the soldier was taken to the Pakistani tribal areas close to the Afghan border and is now being held by Haqqani fighters somewhere near Miramshah, North Waziristan.
Now Bowe Bergdahl appeared in a new video produced by the Haqqani Taliban network. For a few seconds the kidnapped soldier is shown standing in a mountain forest, next to Mullah Sangin Zadran, the local commander of the Haqqani network in Paktika province. Since Bergdahl disappeared in summer 2009, it was believed Mullah Sangin was indeed the leader of the hostage-taker cell.
Mullah Sangin is regarded as one of the most prominent field commanders loyal to Sirajuddin Haqqani and his well known father Jalahuddin Haqqani. As most of the militants of the Haqqani network, Mullah Sangin belongs to the Zadran tribe of North Waziristan. For several years now he is the “Director of Military Affairs of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for Paktika Province”.
Among Mullah Sangin´s fighters there are not only Afghan and Pakistani Pashtuns but also foreign jihadis of Uzbek, Chechen and Arab origin. During an interview with al-Qaeda´s media wing As-Sahab in 2009, Mullah Sangin talked about the relationship between Taliban and Osama Bin Laden´s organization: “We do not see any difference between Taliban and Al- Qaeda, for we all belong to the religion of Islam.”
Eventhough the Haqqanis have come forward with several demands the U.S. should meet to secure the release of Bowe Bergdahl – including the release of Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui. No official negotiations have started yet, and even the latest appearence of Bergdahl in the new Taliban video is no proof the soldier is still alive. It seems the latest released footage was recorded shortly after the kidnapping of Bergdahl, so it is probably sixteen months old.
In the past months rumours appeared in several internet forums used by Jihadis saying Bergdahl had converted to Islam and is teaching the Taliban militants in Northwest Pakistan in how to build explosive devices. This information has never been confirmed by the Taliban. If true, they would have created a new propaganda piece highlighting the soldier´s conversion to Islam.