WASHINGTON — The Army on Monday started its investigation into the mysterious June 2009 disappearance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan and his capture by the Taliban shortly afterward.
The Army placed Maj. Gen. Kenneth R. Dahl, who held senior command posts in Afghanistan and served earlier in Iraq, in charge of the probe.
Dahl is currently deputy commanding general of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.
After five years in captivity, Bergdahl was released June 1 in exchange for five Taliban militants who’d been held at the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
As head of the investigation, Dahl will explore claims by some of Bergdahl’s former platoon mates that he went AWOL on June 30 shortly before his capture, leaving his combat outpost in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.
“The truth is, Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his unit died trying to track him down,” Nathan Bradley Bethea, a veteran from Bergdahl’s unit, wrote June 2 in The Daily Beast, an online news site.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress last week he had seen no evidence that any soldiers died in the search for Bergdahl.
Should Bergdahl eventually face a court-martial, Joint Base Lewis-McChord is a possible site for the military trial as the closest major installation to his hometown in Idaho.
Dahl will have access to the 2009 investigation and report the Army completed on Bergdahl’s disappearance, but his probe will apparently be a new initiative.
The swap of war prisoners has sparked controversy with mainly Republican lawmakers accusing President Barack Obama of breaking longstanding U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
At a tense House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, said the deal vindicated the more venerable military policy of not leaving a fallen warrior behind enemy lines.
Hagel said the United States negotiated directly with the Qatari government, which brokered the deal. The five freed Taliban must remain in Qatar at least a year under the terms of the accord.
Bergdahl was treated for 12 days at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and then flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Friday.
“The Army’s top priority remains Sgt. Bergdahl’s health and reintegration,” the Army said Monday in a statement.
Dahl will not interview Bergdahl, 28, until the team of doctors and psychologists treating him clears him for such questioning, the Army said.
Dahl, a 1982 graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013 during the period in which Bergdahl was held captive.
The appointment of a two-star general to head the investigation of Bergdahl’s disappearance and captivity indicates the case’s high profile.
In a normal review of possible misconduct, called a 15-6 report for the number of the Army regulation that governs it, an officer two or three ranks above the rank of the soldier being probed would lead the initiative.
That precedent would have placed a captain or a major in charge of examining Bergdahl’s case.