Bowe Bergdahl release: Email exchange reveals extent of US failure in Afghan war

'The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,' wrote Sergeant Bergdahl in an email later published by Rolling Stone magazine

It is a bitter indictment of an army in trouble. It was written by the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl in his last email to his parents sent just before he walked off his base in eastern Afghanistan on 30 June 2009.

Within hours, he was picked by the Taliban who held him for five years until his exchange for five senior Taliban leaders held in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,” wrote Sergeant Bergdahl in an email later published by Rolling Stone magazine. “It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

Sgt Bergdahl had joined the army when it was short of soldiers to send to Afghanistan as part of the “surge” in the number of combat brigades there. With too few men, it had started to issue “waivers” to recruits facing felony charges or drugs problems who previously would have been turned down for the army. For Sgt Bergdahl, a crack shot, well-educated and with a romantic vision of what professional soldiering involved, disillusionment set in fast.

His company was understrength and demoralised. He complained that three good sergeants had been forced to move to another company and “one of the biggest shit bags is being put in charge of the team”. The commander of his battalion was a “conceited old fool” and other officers were as bad: “In the US army you are cut down for being honest... but if you are a conceited brown-nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank.”

Sgt Bergdahl had taken seriously the counter-insurgency strategy supposedly aimed at winning the “hearts and minds” of Afghans. Instead, he found that US soldiers regarded Afghans with aggressive contempt: “I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.”

He spoke of seeing an Afghan child run over by an American heavy-armoured truck, an event which his parents believe may have led him to leave his base. His father responded to his last message with an email in which the subject line was titled: “Obey Your Conscience.”

The life stories of the six men – five Afghans and one American – exchanged this weekend shows how quickly the mood of armies in Afghanistan can switch from full confidence in victory to frustration and defeat. In the summer of 2001 the Taliban rightly believed they were close to taking over the whole of Afghanistan as their enemies were penned into the mountains of the north-east.

But 9/11 changed all that and by November the Americans were cock-a-hoop that they had won an easy success. Eight years later Sgt Bergdahl’s reasons for going Awol illustrate how far Afghanistan turned into a demoralising and unwinnable war for the US.

The Taliban had also seen hopes of victory turn sour in a much shorter period. Mullah Mohammed Fazl, also known as Mullah Fazel Mazloom, was the leader of 10,000 Taliban fighters held responsible for massacres of Hazara and Tajiks in northern Afghanistan.

He surrendered to the opposition Northern Alliance in 2001. With him was the governor of Balkh province, Mullah Norullah Noori. They were taken to the battleship USS Bataan and then to Guantanamo.

Ever since exploratory talks started between the US and the Taliban, the first demand of the latter was for these two men to be released. Other prisoners include Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa who was a founding member of the Taliban in 1994. In these early days after the fall of the Taliban, an over-confident US saw no reason why former Taliban leaders should be conciliated. Among those senior Taliban security official reported to have vainly reached out to the Americans are the two remaining detainees.

Who could have imagined at the end of 2001 that 13 years later the US would be exchanging prisoners with the Taliban? For the US, getting back their only prisoner detaches them further from Afghanistan, the handover of the five leaders is a sign of their legitimacy and strength.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable