Taliban video provides hope for family of captive US soldier

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The Independent Online

The only known US soldier held captive in Afghanistan appears briefly in a newly released Taliban video standing next to a smiling insurgent commander who once threatened to kill him. Special Bowe Bergdahl, 24, has bags under his eyes and what appears to be an abrasion on his left cheek in the footage.

The video was the fourth to appear since he was captured nearly 18 months ago and was provided by IntelCenter, a private, US-based organisation that tracks Islamic extremist activities and communications. His parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, have declined to speak with reporters throughout the ordeal, but Idaho National Guard spokesman Colonel Tim Marsano said that they had confirmed that the man in the video was their son.

"They responded that it was him, based on the screenshots," Marsano said. "It's been an extremely difficult year and a half. Without any concrete news, everyday brings more challenges. They do continue to take some comfort in the support they've gotten, from the community, family, friends."

Nato spokesman Josef Blotz said the coalition was not sure whether the footage was old or new. Bergdahl is seen wearing an Afghan-style, lightweight tan shirt, suggesting the video was shot in warmer weather. "We are still investigating this case and hope Bowe Bergdahl is still fine," he said.

Bergdahl has been held by the Taliban since 30 June, 2009, when he disappeared in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, which also tracks Islamic extremist activities, Bergdahl is standing next to Sangin Zadran, a senior official in the al Qa'ida-linked Haqqani network in Paktika. In July 2009, Sangin's spokesman told the Associated Press in a telephone interview that Berghdal would be killed unless the US stops strikes in Ghazni province's Giro district and Paktika province's Khoshamand district. Bergdahl, who is seen in just a few seconds of footage that includes a montage of past militant attacks and news events, nods occasionally as if acknowledging another speaker and often looks down at the ground.

The 69-minute video, produced by Manba al-Jihad, a video production group of the Haqqani network, was released on the website of the Afghan Taliban on 2 December, but appeared on jihadist forums last month, according to SITE.