US soldier Bowe Bergdahl homecoming party cancelled over protest security fears
The freed US soldier's small Idaho hometown said it would not be able to cope with expected huge crowds of protesters - both for and against Sergeant Bergdahl
The hometown of the freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl has been forced to cancel plans for a party to welcome him back after police said they would not be able to cope with the threat of violence from protesters.
Organisers at the town of Hailey in Idaho have held an annual event called Bring Bowe Back ever since he was captured by the Taliban after walking away from his unit, unarmed, in 2009.
But federal and local officials have faced a huge backlash from conservative commentators in the wake of the controversial deal to secure his release last week in exchange for five Afghan Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Hailey Chamber of Commerce president Jane Drussel said she and her colleagues had received hate mail and threats from people describing Sergeant Bergdahl as a traitor.
Speaking about the dramatic shift in public opinion since it was first announced the 28-year-old would be coming home, she said: “The joy has all of a sudden become not so joyful.”
What would have been the final Bring Bowe Back celebration, scheduled for 28 June, has now been cancelled.
Bowe Bergdahl is currently under medical and psychological surveillance at a US military hospital in Germany The town with a population of just 8,000 said in a statement that it did not have the means to handle the event now that the issue had become one of national – and international – debate.
“If you had 10,000 people, 5,000 on one side and 5,000 on the other, then just due to the national attention, we don't know what to expect,” police chief Jeff Gunter said.
While people continue to argue over whether Sgt Bergdahl should receive a hero’s welcome or punishment for alleged desertion, various US politicians and experts have complained that Congress should have been consulted about the prisoner exchange, that the deal will embolden the Taliban to capture more American soldiers, and that the released Afghans will simply return to the battlefield.
In Washington, Rob Williams, the US national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that four of the men were expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials.
Robert Bergdahl makes a statement about the release of his son Sgt Bowe Bergdahl as his wife, Jani Bergdahl and President Barack Obama listen in the Rose Garden at the White House The five include the former Taliban interior minister, who was described in a US case file leaked by WikiLeaks as having had close ties to Osama bin Laden; the Taliban's former deputy chief of intelligence; and a former member of a joint Taliban-al Qaida cell.
The Taliban has issued a video showing the well-choreographed release of Sgt Bergdahl, from a silver pick-up truck in the Afghan desert to a Black Hawk helicopter.
A Taliban statement, also distributed to the media, quoted leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as saying the release of the five Taliban was a significant achievement for the movement.
Read more: Taliban release video of Bergdahl's first taste of freedom
US soldier Bowe Bergdahl’s father attacked by release deal critics
President Barack Obama has defended the swap, citing a “sacred” obligation to not leave men and women in uniform behind.
But in Washington, Rob Williams, the US national intelligence officer for South Asia, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that four of the men were expected to resume activities with the Taliban, according to two senior congressional officials.
The five include the former Taliban interior minister, who was described in a US case file leaked by WikiLeaks as having had close ties to Osama bin Laden; the Taliban's former deputy chief of intelligence; and a former member of a joint Taliban-al Qaida cell.
The Taliban has released a video showing the handover of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl to US Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan, in a smooth exchange that took place in just ten careful seconds Some of Sgt Bergdahl's former comrades have complained that US soldiers died during the search for him after he walked away. The military has not confirmed such a link.
US defence secretary Chuck Hagel said the army would review the case and warned against drawing conclusions until then.
“We don't do that in the United States. We rely on facts,” he said at a Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels.
Lee Ann Ferris, a neighbour of the Bergdahls in Hailey, said the town was trying not to pay attention to the criticism of the soldier and the talk about how he fell into Taliban hands.
“It's like a modern-day lynching. He hasn't even been able to give his side of the story yet. This community will welcome him back no matter what,” she said.
Additional reporting by AP
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