KABUL - The Taliban yesterday released a video of an American soldier captured in Afghanistan, showing him apparently healthy but spouting criticism about the U.S. military operation.
In Idaho, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl's family pleaded on Christmas Day for his release and urged him to "stay strong."
Bergdahl disappeared June 30 while based in eastern Afghanistan and is the only known American serviceman in captivity. The Taliban claimed his capture in a video released in mid-July that showed the young Idaho soldier appearing downcast and frightened. He hadn't been heard from until yesterday's video, in which he looks well and speaks clearly.
Although the video was released yesterday, it was unclear when it was made, and NATO spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks told the New York Times that it was not evidence that Bergdahl is still alive.
He suggested that the video may be a pastiche of clips from earlier this year.
"We are not using this as a proof-of-life video," Shanks told the newspaper. "It's still to be determined when it was made, but it could have been made even several months ago. It has a lot of editing pieces."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force confirmed hours later that the man in the video was Bergdahl, but denounced both its timing and content.
"This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement," said a statement from U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, ISAF's spokesman. "To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam."
In the video, Bergdahl is shown seated, facing the camera, wearing sunglasses and what appears to be a U.S. military helmet and uniform. On one side of the image, it says: "An American soldier imprisoned by the Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."
He identifies himself as Bergdahl, born in Sun Valley, Idaho, and gives his rank, birth date, blood type, his unit and mother's maiden name before beginning a lengthy verbal attack on the U.S. conduct of the war in Afghanistan and its relations with Muslims.
In the video, Bergdahl says: "It's our arrogance and, and our stupidity that has made us so blind that we simply refuse to see the blunders and mistakes that we continue to make over and over again.
"This is just going to be the next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense," he said. Although it is unclear where Bergdahl was being held when the video was recorded, he said that he had not been abused by his captors and drew a sharp contrast with his own country's treatment of war prisoners.