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Captured American soldier had left his unit, source says

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WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon investigation concluded in 2010 U.S. army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his unit, and after an initial flurry of searching the military decided not to exert extraordinary efforts to rescue him, according to a former senior defence official who was involved in the matter.

Instead, the U.S. government pursued negotiations to get him back over the following five years of his captivity -- a track that led to his release over the weekend.

Bergdahl is hospitalized at a U.S. military facility in Germany as questions mount at home over the swap that resulted in his freedom in exchange for the release of five detainees who were sent to Qatar from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, Cuba.

Even in the first hours of Bergdahl's handoff to U.S. special forces in eastern Afghanistan, it was clear this would not be an uncomplicated yellow-ribbon celebration.

Five terrorist suspects also walked free, stirring a debate over whether the exchange would heighten the risk of other Americans being snatched as bargaining chips and whether the released detainees -- several senior Taliban figures among them -- would find their way back to the fight.

U.S. officials said Sunday Bergdahl's health and safety appeared in jeopardy, prompting rapid action. "Had we waited and lost him," said national security adviser Susan Rice, "I don't think anybody would have forgiven the United States government." She said he had lost considerable weight and faced an "acute" situation. Yet she also said he appeared to be "in good physical condition" and "is said to be walking."

The former Pentagon official said it was "incontrovertible" Bergdahl walked away from his unit.

The military investigation was broader than a criminal inquiry, the official said, and didn't formally accuse Bergdahl of desertion. In interviews, members of his unit portrayed him as a naive, "delusional" person who thought he could help the Afghan people by leaving his army post, the official said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2014 A11

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