By MATTHEW COLE
Looking gaunt and scared and with a cut on his face, Bowe Bergdahl appears in a newly released Taliban video, a sign that the captive Army soldier is still alive, but that his nearly 18-month ordeal has taken a toll.
The 44-minute video, which was widely distributed on the web, shows a clean-shaven Bergdahl standing with the senior Taliban commander responsible for his capture near the Pakistani border in June 2009. Bergdahl is on-screen for about 15 seconds just over halfway through the video. Some of the footage of Bergdahl is recycled fromer earlier videos.
Mullah Sangin, a top commander in the al Qaeda-connected Haqqani group, is believed to have orchestrated the kidnapping of Bergdahl, and facilitated his movement from Afghanistan to the tribal areas of Western Pakistan, where Bergdahl is believed to be held.
Bergdahl has appeared in a total of four Taliban videos since his capture, the first released in July 2009. Soon after Bergdahl's capture, Sangin threatened to kill him if the U.S. did not pull out of Afghanistan, but he had not previously appeared in a video with his captive.
Through a spokesman, Bergdahl's family has confirmed his identity via screen grabs of the video. A Pentagon spokesman said that it was unknown whether the footage was current, and that the Pentagon "deplore[s] the fact that the Taliban is using him in that way in releasing footage."
"But we continue our efforts to try and recover Specialist Bergdahl," said the spokesman.
Bergdahl, 24, of Boise, Idaho, is the only U.S. serviceman captured since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.
A private first class at the time of his capture, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska before deploying to Afghanistan. He was promoted to Specialist while in captivity.
Bergdahl was lured from his post in eastern Afghanistan by several Afghan National Army soldiers on June 30th, 2009, and then taken by Taliban fighters in a nearby village, according to a senior Pentagon official.
Bergdahl was quickly moved to Pakistan, where he has been shuttled around several locations, primarily in North Waziristan, the Pentagon official said.
Reward Offered For Bergdahl
In the immediate days after Bergdahl's capture, U.S. forces began distributing a leaflet in eastern Afghanistan that warned, "If you do not release the U.S. soldier, then you will be hunted." A picture of an American soldier kicking in the door of an Afghan home covers the leaflet.
The U.S. military also had a succession of efforts to locate the missing soldier and free him. Initially, a reward of $25,000 for location tips was offered to Afghans in the eastern portions of the region from which he disappeared. According to a source involved in the effort, a large number of calls flooded, and overwhelmed U.S. military efforts.
Shortly after Bergdahl was taken prisoner, his captors filmed him making a brief statement and drinking tea and released the tape on the internet. They released a second video on Christmas 2009.
In a video released in April, Bergdahl was bearded and dressed in military issue clothing. He held up a newspaper, but the date of the paper's publication was not visible.
Bergdahl also performed push-ups to demonstrate his physical condition and said he was being treated well, despite being a prisoner.
But Bergdahl began to lose his composure as he talked to the camera.
"Release me please, I'm begging you," he said.
"I love my family. I haven't shown it very well because I've been pretty lost in my life and I don't think I've given my family the love that they've given me."
"Let me go," pleaded Bergdahl.
Additional reporting by Luis Martinez.