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WASHINGTON – A man who served as U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s squad leader before he went missing in southeastern Afghanistan five years ago tells WND the soldier “was a little unstable” and “abandoned his post, [leaving] four guys sleeping with no one covering them” because he was “fed up with the establishment, with poor leadership.”
Greg Leatherman was in charge of the five-man operation Bergdahl allegedly abandoned June 30, 2009. The Taliban held Bergdahl, 28, in captivity for five years until the Obama administration agreed to release five high-level terrorists May 31 from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.
The White House has hailed the return of Bergdahl from Taliban custody, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice claimed Sunday that Bergdahl served with “distinction.”
But Leatherman said, “Something isn’t right because he’s being labeled as a hero.”
“I would never abandon my battle buddies while they slept,” Leatherman said, adding that Bergdahl left the men “open to ambush.”
“I would know that I’d be captured immediately. A short, American guy trudging through Afghanistan in ACUs [Army Combat Uniform]. I’d do what I did. I’d take a knee, face out, pull security and suck it the hell up.”
Leatherman, who runs the Facebook group “Bowe Bergdahl is NOT a hero!” and started a White House petition asking the Obama administration to punish Bergdahl for desertion, expressed concern that the Obama administration has put a bigger target on soldiers’ backs by negotiating with terrorists.
“I don’t like that we have openly negotiated with terrorists,” he said. “I believe other terrorist organizations will see this as an opportunity to target more Americans.”
Another soldier who claims to have been part of a 35-man mission to retrieve Bergdahl wrote in a blog posting: “Here is what I know, not from hearsay, but because I was there. Bergdahl became a sympathizer, walked off his post to seek out the Taliban in order to join their ranks, to help and live with them.”
Sgt. Josh Korder, yet another soldier who served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan, told CNN’s Jake Tapper: “He is at best a deserter, and at worst a traitor. Any of us would have died for him while he was with us, and then for him to just leave us like that, it was a very big betrayal.”
Now, according to CNN’s Barbara Starr, a defense official says Bergdahl will be promoted to staff sergeant because he hasn’t been classified a deserter. He has already received two promotions since being taken prisoner.
The following are photos of six U.S. soldiers reportedly killed while searching for Bergdahl:
According to Fox News, a senior Department of Defense official confirmed that “many within the intelligence community harbor serious outstanding concerns not only that Bergdahl may have been a deserter but that he may have been an active collaborator with the enemy.”
While Leatherman said he doesn’t know whether Bergdahl converted to Islam while in captivity, he concluded, “It would be difficult not to after five years.”
As for the soldier’s mental state before he left, the squad leader said, “I don’t think he had PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder], but I think he was a little unstable.”
In 2012, then-Spc. Jason Fry told Rolling Stone, “He spent more time with the Afghans than he did with his platoon.”
Fry said he heard “all kinds of crazy stories about him.”
“My buddy was on an op, pulling guard duty,” said Fry, remembering a prank Bergdahl pulled. “Bergdahl was sneaking up on him like he was practicing techniques for the Battle of Wanat, on the other side.”
Rolling Stone reported: “The U.S. base at Wanat, a remote village in Afghanistan, had been overrun by the Taliban four months earlier, leaving nine Americans dead and 27 wounded. It was one of the most deadly battles since the start of the war.”
Bergdahl returned to Hailey, Idaho, one last time before his disappearance. When he was there, he gave his father, Robert Bergdahl, his last will and testament.
“He wanted to be buried at sea,” his father recalled. “Typical. It’s just this figment of his imagination. That’s how he was seeing himself. This kid, from when he was 18, was hanging out with the elite. That’s where his habits came from. He was living in a novel.”
Before Bergdahl deployed to Afghanistan, he reportedly told Fry: “If this deployment is lame, I’m just going to walk off into the mountains of Pakistan.”
Bergdahl prepared for his mission by learning to speak Pashto and reading Russian military manuals.
After a popular soldier, 1st Lt. Brian Bradshaw, was killed by a roadside bomb and several soldiers in Bergdahl’s unit had been reprimanded for various mistakes and forced to change units, Bergdahl wrote his father an email complaining of the conditions and calling his battalion commander a “conceited old fool.”
“In the US army you are cut down for being honest … but if you are a conceited brown nosing sh-t bag you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank,” he wrote. “The system is wrong. I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.”
He said soldiers he admired were making plans to leave.
“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at,” Bergdahl wrote. “It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good (sergeants) are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”
Bergdahl also criticized the broader mission in Afghanistan.
“I am sorry for everything here,” he wrote. “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 ended his email with: “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting.”
Leatherman told WND Bergdahl “never spoke out against the mission to us, just that he thought it might be different.”
He added, “I think he romanticized the war and was surprised by the reality of it.”
Some sources, including one of Bergdahl’s captors, have said he not only deserted his fellow soldiers in 2009, but trained Taliban jihadis to make bombs and ambush convoys, according to a 2010 London Sunday Times report.
In 2010, a Taliban deputy district commander in Paktika province who called himself Haji Nadeem said Bergdahl, who learned to speak Pashto, converted to Islam months after his capture.
“When I saw him for the second time, he had totally changed,” Nadeem said. “He had a beard and he treated all of us very respectfully. He seemed very relaxed in our company. He was no longer scared.”
Nadeem said Bergdahl was given the Muslim name Abdullah, though he questioned whether the conversion to Islam was genuine.
“Some of my comrades think he’s pretending to be a Muslim to save himself so they wouldn’t behead him,” Nadeem explained.
A Pakistani commander told Agence France-Presse Bergdahl wasn’t interested in learning about Islam and celebrated Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter.
However, Nadeem added that Bergdahl gave him basic ambush training and taught him how to disassemble a Nokia cell phone to build a remote control for roadside bombs.
Staff writer Chelsea Schilling contributed to this story.