Bergdahl travels back to America

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iol news pic TOR102_USA-AFGHANISTAN-BERGDAHL_0531_11 Reuters US Army Sergeant Bowe Berghdal is seen in this handout image. Picture: US Army, via Reuters

Washington - Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a Taliban prisoner of war before being released on May 31, left a US military hospital in Germany on Thursday headed to San Antonio, where he will receive further treatment, the Pentagon said.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said Bergdahl left Ramstein Air Base in Germany aboard a military plane on Thursday afternoon and was due to arrive early on Friday in San Antonio, where he will receive additional care at the Brooke Army Medical Centre.

“Our first priority is making sure that Sergeant Bergdahl continues to get the care and support he needs,” Kirby said in a statement.

Bergdahl was handed over to US forces in Afghanistan on May 31 in exchange for the release of five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo prison in Cuba. Bergdahl's initial release sparked a wave of euphoria that was quickly replaced by a political uproar over the release of the senior Taliban members.

Lawmakers criticised the Obama administration for failing to give them 30 days' notice before transferring prisoners from Guantanamo as required by law. Some charged that the administration had essentially violated its policy against negotiating with terrorists by doing the deal.

Some of Bergdahl's former comrades in Afghanistan also voiced outrage, charging he had deserted when he walked away from his outpost under unclear circumstances and was later captured.

iol pic wld SA-AFGHANISTAN-BERGDAHL_0604_11 A Blackhawk helicopter waits as US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl (second right, back facing camera) is led to American military officials during his release at the Afghan border, in this still image from video released on June 4, 2014. Picture: Al-Emara via Reuters TV Reuters

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the swap deal was messy and imperfect, but defended the administration's decision to go ahead with it.

“We made the right decision and we did it for the right reasons: to bring home one of our own people,” he said. “America does not leave its soldiers behind.”

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Tom Crosson, another Pentagon spokesman, said Bergdahl would be receiving treatment at Brooke Army Medical Centre “for as long as he needs to be”.

“He's there as part of his reintegration,” Crosson said. “There is no set timetable. He's there to receive the reintegration care he needs.”

The hospital facility, formally known as the San Antonio Military Medical Centre, has teams of specialists and has been helping returning prisoners of war for decades.

Bergdahl's parents, Bob and Jani Bergdahl, were expected to travel to Texas to be with their son. It was not immediately clear when they would depart for San Antonio from their home in Hailey, Idaho, or if they had spoken to their son.

Military officials have said Bergdahl did not immediately contact his parents after his release, but could do so whenever he was emotionally ready. The officials said that was not unusual, with some people wanting to call immediately and others needing to wait.

Bergdahl's parents have been helped by a team of military assistance officers, including two from San Antonio to help them make the transition to Texas, said Army Major Kevin Hickey of the Idaho National Guard. - Reuters



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