No Afeganistão, muitas mulheres são presas por fugirem de casamentos combinados ou por casar contra a vontade dos pais. Esta é a história de uma dessas raparigas, contada pelo Center for Investigarive Reporting.
Começou a combater contra os soviéticos. Lutou ao lado de Ahmar Shah Massoud. Agora enfrenta os Talibã. Os homens começaram a chamar-lhe “Comandante Pombo” – pela forma como se movia e a elegância com que matava os inimigos. A jornalista Jen Percy passou uma noite no seu acampamento – e conta a história na The New Republic.
By Jen Percy
’d been living in Afghanistan three weeks when my guide, a young Afghan named Sharif Sahak, showed me a photograph of the country’s only known female warlord, Bibi Ayisha, nom de guerre: Commander Pigeon. It was late 2013, the Americans were preparing to leave, and Sharif had heard that the commander was training a new militia of female jihadists to fight the Taliban. In the photograph, she looked to be about 200 pounds and 60 years old. A large woman with black eyes made small by folds of skin. A beaked nose protruded from a wide flat face. She held her machine gun against her bosom like a bouquet of roses. A few girls dressed in bright loose tunics holding AK-47s stood at her side, with ammo wound like gold pythons about their necks. “Hot chicks with AKs,” Sharif remarked.
Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative. The Afghans accused her of robbery and murder. A few suspected she worked with Taliban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who escaped from Bagram prison in 2008, and a local warlord called the Green Imam. Together they supposedly controlled all the drug-trafficking routes in the north. One person told me, “She has many houses in Kabul but prefers to live in the mountains among the animals.” She didn’t have any of the usual warlord stories. No acid throwing or biting off chicken heads, or leaving prisoners in vats to die. She was not like Commander Zardad who kept a human dog on a chain to maul and sometimes eat people. She was a woman and she killed men—while wearing a flowery dress.
According to locals, Commander Pigeon was born in the village of Gawi, and her father was named Haji Dawlat and he had seven wives, and his second wife had ten children, and of these children, Commander Pigeon was the most loved. She carried a gun at age 14, the same year she married Shad Muhammad, a businessman whose reputation was said to suffer because he allowed Commander Pigeon to wear pants. He died of a mysterious illness. Then, in 1979, the Soviets swarmed her mountain and murdered her son. She turned to jihad. She killed the commando, organized a militia of 150 men to fight the Soviets, and rode alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. They called her Commander Pigeon because she moved and killed with the elegance of a bird.
When the Americans arrived in 2001, the northeast was a mess of insurgent groups governed by warlords like Commander Pigeon. The United Nations started a program called the Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG), and by 2006, DIAG disarmed about 60,000 militants. Then the government faced a second problem: unemployed combatants. The United Nations invested in more programs, including business courses for ex-combatants, focused on job skills. But most of the warriors, like Commander Pigeon, didn’t want to disarm. Once the Americans left, factional fighting would start up again. They needed their weapons. Commander Pigeon already regretted giving up her vintage World War II British .303 Lee-Enfield rifle.
This year, an Australian security consulting firm conducted a survey on inspirational Afghan women, and their research led them to Commander Pigeon. On her public Facebook page, one fan wrote: “She has proven to the world that women of Afghanistan are not victims; she’s more stronger then any women in the world today.” She certainly sounded very different from any of the Afghan women I had met or heard about. I’d been talking to women in shelters, victims of domestic violence, or kidnapped girls working as sex slaves for commanders. One of them, a teenage girl, said Commander Pigeon was a hero. After all, since 2001, Americans have invested in infrastructure allowing women to attend school or gain positions of power. But the month I arrived, Afghans shipped 30-year-old Setara to Turkey to get her lips and nose sewn back on after her husband cut them off with a kitchen knife. A pregnant schoolteacher named Malalai was hanged and her body dumped near a foreign base. No one could save Negar, the top female police officer in Helmand, after she was shot in the neck by men on motorbikes. And yet no one has managed to kill Commander Pigeon. For 34 years, she has commanded a group of armed fighters from her stronghold 250 miles north of Kabul in Baghlan Province, the same region where the British said Afghans sliced the stomachs of Russian soldiers and left them to die so that their organs might bake in the sun.
Sharif, a clean-shaven 28-year old, was friends with the newly appointed police chief of Baghlan Province, a man named General Amarakhail, and he said he could help arrange a visit.
“I think she’ll like you,” Sharif said.
ome Afghans believe cannibalistic females haunt the Hindu Kush. They are simian and boar-tusked and have long, floating hair. They eat corpses. Commander Pigeon lived on the other side of the Hindu Kush, over a pass called the Khotal-e Salang. According to the Afghan Analysts Network, Baghlan Province has between 2,500 and 3,000 Taliban, inhabiting an area about the size of Connecticut.
On a Sunday morning, Sharif and I, along with a driver and a photographer named Lorenzo, packed into a small Toyota Corolla with a prayer rug and headed north out of Kabul on Highway 1. We left just as the first winter snows were falling, and Sharif told us about the avalanches of 2010 that killed hundreds of people on the pass. “There are more ways to die in Afghanistan,” Sharif said, “than anywhere else in the world.” The Salang pass, at its highest, skims 12,723 feet. It’s a tight, twisting section of potholed road, clogged with Pakistani jingle trucks, scattered with memorials. A Soviet-built tunnel cuts almost two miles through the heart of the mountains.
Snow fell and the roads darkened to mud. The men put on chains and I put on a burka. Sharif said it looked strange. He explained: Don’t talk. Don’t smack gum. Don’t lean your elbow against the window like you keep doing. Cover your legs. Don’t get out of the car. Be a good girl. Most importantly, cover the hair. Hide your passport. We are a Tajik rock band and you are the singer going to sing for Commander Pigeon.
No Afeganistão, casais que só têm filhas acabam muitas vezes por criar uma delas como se fosse um rapaz. Mudam-lhes o nome, cortam-lhes o cabelo e arranjam-lhes roupas masculinas – mas todos sabem quem são. E lidam bem com isso. Um artigo publicado na The Atlantic.
In a society that demands sons at almost any cost, some families are cutting their daughters’ hair short and giving them male names.
“Mehran, age 6, first arrived at her kindergarten in Kabul as Mahnoush, in pigtails and a pistachio dress. When school shut down for a break, Mahnoush left and never returned. Instead a short-haired, tie-wearing child with the more masculine-sounding name of Mehran began first grade with the other children.
Nothing else changed much. Some teachers were surprised but did not comment except to one another. When the male Koran teacher demanded Mehran cover her head in his class, a baseball cap solved the problem. Miss Momand, a teacher who started her job after Mehran’s change, remembers being startled when a boy was brought into the girls’ room for afternoon nap time but realizing, as she helped Mehran undress, that she was a girl. Mehran’s mother Azita later explained to Miss Momand that she had only daughters, and that Mehran went as the family’s son. Miss Momand understood perfectly. She herself used to have a friend at school who was a family’s only child and had assumed the role of a son.
Officially, girls like Mehran do not exist in Afghanistan, where the system of gender segregation is among the strictest in the world. But many other Afghans, too, can recall a former neighbor, a relative, a colleague, or someone in their extended family raising a daughter as a son. These children even have their own colloquialism, bacha posh, which literally translates from Dari to “dressed like a boy.” Midwives, doctors, and nurses I’ve met from all over the provinces are more familiar with the practice than most; they have all known bacha posh to appear at clinics, escorting a mother or a sister, or as a patient who has proven to be of another birth sex than first presumed.
The health workers say that families who disguise their daughters in this way can be rich, poor, educated, or uneducated, or belong to any of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups. The only thing that binds the bacha posh girls together is their families’ need for a son in a society that undervalues daughters and demands sons at almost any cost. They disguised their girls as boys because the family needed another income through a child who worked and girls aren’t allowed to, because the road to school was dangerous and a boy’s disguise provided some safety, or because the family lacked sons and needed to present as a complete family to the village. Often, as in Kabul, it is a combination of factors. A poor family may need a son for different reasons than a rich family, but no ethnic or geographical reasons set them apart.
And to most of them, the health workers told me, having a bacha posh in the family is an accepted and uncontroversial practice, provided the girl is turned back to a woman before she enters puberty, when she must marry and have children of her own. Waiting too long to turn someone back could have consequences for a girl’s reputation. A teenage girl should not be anywhere near teenage boys, even in disguise. She could mistakenly touch them or be touched by them, and be seen as a loose and impure girl by those who know her secret. It could ruin her chances of getting married, and she would be seen as a tarnished offering. The entire family’s reputation could be sullied. For that reason, and because the bacha posh I spoke to were minors, some names and details have been changed in the story that follows.”
Bowe Bergdahl foi o último soldado americano aprisionado pelos Talibã a ser libertado. Na vespera da libertação do militar, o The Guardian conseguiu uma entrevista exclusiva com o seu pai, Bob Bergdahl.
Assim que chegou ao Iraque e ao Afeganistão, o exército norte-americano fez o que qualquer força faz num país estrangeiro: recrutou locais para desempenharem funções de guias, intérpretes e também de soldados. Tal como seria de esperar, essas pessoas – e as respectivas famílias – tornaram-se um alvo preferencial dos rebeldes iraquianos e dos talibã. Com a retirada das tropas e o seu regresso aos Estados Unidos, eles ficaram desprotegidos. E não conseguem sequer que lhes seja cumprida a promessa de obter um visto para os EUA. Este artigo da revista Men’s Journal, explora esta dura realidade.
They fanned out, facing the ridge, and waited to get shot. The eight National Guardsmen lay as flat as they could in the open creek while the dirt beside them jumped with machine-gun rounds. There were 45 Taliban blazing away above them, firing from two emplacements on the hill in Wahgez, a lawless, black-route district in southern Afghanistan. Still dazed by the rocket that pierced his “bomb resistant” truck and launched this hour-old ambush, First Lieutenant Matt Zeller was low on ammo and dropping in and out of consciousness. Twice he’d been rocked by mortar strikes while shooting at a gunner on the hill. The last one had knocked him back behind a grave, where he braced for the round that would cut him in half. “April 28, 2008,” he thought. “This is the day that I die.”
Suddenly, he saw a convoy roar up to a halt. The cavalry – a Quick Reaction Force from his base – began sawing open the tree line with high explosives. Zeller took to returning fire when the crack! of a rifle went off past his ear. He looked up to find Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter assigned to Zeller’s National Guard unit, crouched beside him, shooting in the other direction. “Two Taliban had rounded a corner and were right behind me; another second and they’d have shot me in the back,” says Zeller. But Shinwari, who’d arrived with the QRF squad, calmly emptied his clip, killing them both, then dragged Zeller from the kill zone to the trucks.
Hours later, having towed the vehicles back to base and gotten medical care for his wounded, Zeller sat up drinking chai with Shinwari, a tall, sloe-eyed Pashtun with heraldic cheekbones and a deep-well air of calm. Though they shared the same quarters in Forward Operating Base Vulcan, they’d barely been introduced during Zeller’s fortnight in-country, and now Zeller needed to know this man who’d saved his life. “Why,” asked Zeller, “are you on our side and not theirs?”
“Because you are my guest here,” said Shinwari. “You come so many miles to help my family; I am honor-bound to protect you, brother.”
There was more to it, of course, but that was plenty for Zeller. The lead intel officer on the tiny base, he pulled rank the next day and had Shinwari assigned to his team of tactical advisers. For the next seven months, they were inseparable, riding shotgun with the Afghan army through explosions and ambushed missions. Shinwari, who’d taught himself English as a teen by watching Arnold Schwarzenegger mangle his lines in Terminator and Commando, wasn’t just the smartest linguist on base – he was also the best marksman. “He could shoot the cap off a pen at 800 meters,” says Zeller. “He saved at least five American lives there, not just mine.” That December, when his hitch was up, Zeller gave Shinwari a powerful hug and an open-ended offer to bring him to America if things got too hot for him and his family. “Thanks, but I’m staying,” said Shinwari. “I don’t scare from the Taliban; they scare from me.”
A couple of years passed; the two men kept in touch via Skype and Facebook chats. Then, in February 2011, Shinwari texted Zeller to redeem his offer of help. After five years of Taliban death threats, he’d been marked for death in a plot U.S. intelligence officers had intercepted. He stashed his wife and two kids with in-laws and went to live on-base while still working as an interpreter, but then word leaked that Allied forces were leaving, closing bases and laying off the many thousands who’d helped them – Afghan linguists and drivers and political fixers, all of whom had risked their lives for the vision marketed by U.S. leaders of a free and decent Afghanistan. Zeller knew what this augured for the collaborators left behind; he’d seen the severed limbs of captured allies left in burlap at the gate of his base, wrapped in warnings to repent before Allah.
Zeller, by then a captain in the Army Reserve and running for Congress in upstate New York, launched an all-points drive to bring Shinwari over on a special immigrant visa (SIV). He compiled 50 letters of recommendation from officers who’d served with Shinwari, documented and validated every death threat texted to Shinwari or slipped under his door, and followed up with letters and calls to the embassy in Kabul. “I figured he’d sail through in six to nine months,” says Zeller. “He’d been vetted by the CIA since ’06, and oh, by the way, he’s a hero.”
But the months turned to years of brick-wall delays, with no word from the State Department or Homeland Security. Zeller, like Shinwari, began to panic. He wrote an anguished op-ed for the Huffington Post, then another for the Guardian online. That fetched him a slew of follow-up coverage, and suddenly congressmen called the embassy, threatening to hold hearings. Meanwhile, Shinwari lived in mounting terror, moving himself and his family every few days to outflank the men with knives and beards who pounded on his in-laws’ door.
Finally, after a 30-month, one-man barrage, Zeller’s pressure won Shinwari a visa. He quit his job as an interpreter, sold his worldly goods, and hid out with his wife and kids while the final arrangements were made for them to come to the U.S. Then, a few days before their tickets came through, he was told over the phone – without a word of explanation – to hand back his hard-won visa. Heartsick, he called Zeller, who called the embassy in Kabul. Nothing; all hope extinguished. And with that, the two learned what political exiles have known since our withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973: When it comes to keeping a promise to wartime allies, America’s word is flimsy at best.In each of our foreign conflicts over the past half-century, America has staged withdrawals of its troops, tanks, and spies from bases of operation overseas but disastrously failed to plan for the dangers its abandoned allies would face after we left. In Saigon and Laos, we’d no sooner departed than the horrors began. Hundreds of thousands dead in South Vietnam, either killed in work camps or on the South China Sea aboard leaky refugee boats. In Laos, Hmong tribesmen who’d stood with us were slaughtered by the many thousands at the hands of Vietcong invaders. Eventually, the mass drownings and the sheer number of Amerasian offspring forced Congress to enter the fray, ordering airlifts of Indochinese exiles to resettlement camps in Guam, and passing laws conferring special immigrant status on the Vietnamese progeny of U.S. soldiers. “We took in more than 200,000 people with Amerasian visas – there was a strong sense of moral obligation,” says Becca Heller, the 30-year-old director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project, a group of young, influential lawyers who intervene on behalf of political exiles, most of them from Iraq and Afghanistan. “That created a path for people who can’t get regular visas but to whom we felt a humanitarian duty.”
Our collective sense of shame, however late, redressed a grievous wrong in Vietnam. But you can’t feel shame for wars you have little stake in, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve waged armed conflict largely out of sight of the American public. Nightly coverage from the theater has dwindled close to zero, troops have been mustered from a sliver of the working poor, and the pain has been localized to those who fought there, their spouses, and their parents. “These wars will be the millennials’ Korea – they’ll go down as a joint footnote in school textbooks,” says Kirk Johnson, the founding director of the List Project, which, like the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Program, has used its shoestring budget to rescue at-risk exiles, many of them interpreters, from Iraq. An ex-Fulbright scholar and civilian aide in Fallujah whose harrowing memoir, To Be a Friend Is Fatal, was published to acclaim last summer, Johnson began the List Project after an Iraqi co-worker was targeted for assassination by Al Qaeda. Johnson wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, urging that steps be taken to protect his friend; almost instantly, he was inundated with frantic emails from Iraqis in similar straits.
Para além da guerra, da pobreza e da presença Taliban, o Afeganistão é uma espécie de paraíso geológico. As montanhas controladas pelos radicais islâmicos estão repletas de pedras preciosas – esmeraldas – que podem valer milhares de milhões de euros essenciais para ajudar o país a sair da pobreza.
Este ano os Estados Unidos pretendem sair definitivamente do Afeganistão. Esta é uma pequena história do país, feita para um documentário que deverá ser lançado em breve.
Três dias depois de chegar à Casa Branca, em Janeiro de 2009, Barack Obama autorizou o primeiro ataque aéreo através de um drone. Nos últimos cinco anos, o presidente norte-americano lançou cerca de 400 operações secretas do género que provocaram quase 2500 mortos – muitos deles inocentes. Ao longo destes anos, o The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, tem tentado registar estas acções no Paquistão, Iémen e Somália e contabilizar as suas vítimas. O resultado não é bonito para o presidente Nobel da Paz.
Five years ago, on January 23 2009, a CIA drone flattened a house in Pakistan’s tribal regions. It was the third day of Barack Obama’s presidency, and this was the new commander-in-chief’s first covert drone strike.
Initial reports said up to ten militants were killed, including foreign fighters and possibly a ‘high-value target’ – a successful first hit for the fledgling administration.
But reports of civilian casualties began to emerge. As later reports revealed, the strike was far from a success. At least nine civilians died, most of them from one family. There was one survivor, 14-year-old Fahim Qureshi, but with horrific injuries including shrapnel wounds in his stomach, a fractured skull and a lost eye, he was as much a victim as his dead relatives.
Later that day, the CIA attacked again – and levelled another house. It proved another mistake, this time one that killed between five and ten people, all civilians.
Obama was briefed on the civilian casualties almost immediately and was ‘understandably disturbed’, Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman later wrote. Three days earlier, in his inauguration address, Obama had told the world ‘that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.’
The Pakistani government also knew civilians had been killed in the strikes. A record of the strikes made by the local political administration and published by the Bureau last year listed nine civilians among the dead. But the government said nothing about this loss of life.
Yet despite this disastrous start the Obama administration markedly stepped up the use of drones. Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan – his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years. And in Yemen, Obama has opened a new front in the secret drone war.
Across Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the Obama administration has launched more than 390 drone strikes in the five years since the first attack that injured Qureshi – eight times as many as were launched in the entire Bush presidency. These strikes have killed more than 2,400 people, at least 273 of them reportedly civilians.
Although drone strikes under Obama’s presidency have killed nearly six times as many people as were killed under Bush, the casualty rate – the number of people killed on average in each strike – has dropped from eight to six under Obama. The civilian casualty rate has fallen too. Strikes during the Bush years killed nearly more than three civilians in each strike on average. This has halved under Obama (1.43 civilians per strike on average). In fact reported civilian casualties in Pakistan have fallen sharply since 2010, with no confirmed reports of civilian casualties in 2013.
The decline in civilian casualties could be because of reported improvements in drone and missile technology, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and greater scrutiny of the covert drone campaign both at home and abroad.”
O artigo completo está aqui.
Em 2010, a afegã Gulnaz foi violada pelo primo do marido. Quando descobriu que estava grávida, foi à polícia. E houve alguém que foi preso: ela. Por adultério. Gulnaz passou 18 meses na cadeia. Até o seu caso chegar ao conhecimento da comunidade internacional e ela se tornar um símbolo das mulheres afegãs. Mas passaram três anos. As atenções da imprensa voltaram-se para outro lado. Agora, quando o Channel 4 News foi saber o que lhe aconteceu, descobriu uma realidade chocante: abandonada pela família, Gulnaz foi obrigada a casar com o homem que a violou.
Marc Dauphin é um médico australiano que passou uma longa temporada num dos hospitais mais atarefados do mundo: a base aérea de Kandahar, no Afeganistão. Pelas suas mãos passaram milhares de soldados feridos. No fim da sua comissão, regressou a casa. Voltou à chamada normalidade que, quatro anos depois, passou a ser tudo menos normal. Este documentário acompanha o seu dia-a-dia no hospital militar e o seu regresso a casa.
O dia 28 de Junho de 2005 ficou na história dos SEAL norte-americanos como o do maior desastre da marinha desde a II Guerra Mundial: 19 homens morreram e um helicóptero foi abatido numa missão militar no Afeganistão. Houve apenas um sobrevivente: Marcus Luttrell. O sniper ficou sozinho durante horas, sem saber se o iriam buscar. Na semana passada contou a Anderson Cooper, do programa 60 Minutes, como a sua equipa foi surpreendida por um pastor de cabras e o seu rebanho – e como ele sobreviveu. A segunda parte da reportagem está aqui.
No Paquistão, o principal inimigo não é uma potência estrangeira. Não é sequer o histórico conflito fronteiriço com a Índia. Está nas ruas de Islamabad. Nas aldeias remotas. Nas montanhas. E está, sobretudo, na fronteira leste – uma área remota para onde terroristas das mais diversas nacionalidades fugiram, vindos do Afeganistão, para lutar ao lado dos taliban paquistaneses. A Al Jazeera conseguiu acesso a essa zona, que até há pouco tempo esteve sob controlo do grupo, que é ainda mais radical do que os taliban afegãos: o Waziristão. A reportagem chama-se Pakistan: The Enemy Within.
Em Junho de 2009, Bowe Bergdahl deixou a sua base no Afeganistão apenas para ser capturado pelos Talibã. Desde então que é prisioneiro de guerra. O único soldado entre norte-americano capturado com vida desde o início do conflito. Numa altura em que o governo norte-americano pondera abrir conversações e paz com os Talibã, no Qatar, (onde uma eventual troca de prisioneiros estará certamente sobre a mesa), vale a pena recordar este artigo da Rolling Stone, escrito há quase um ano pelo recentemente falecido Michael Hastings. Chama-se America’s Last Prisioner of War.
The mother and father sit at the kitchen table in their Idaho farmhouse, watching their son on YouTube plead for his life. The Taliban captured 26-year-old Bowe Bergdahl almost three years ago, on June 30th, 2009, and since that day, his parents, Jani and Bob, have had no contact with him. Like the rest of the world, their lone glimpses of Bowe – the only American prisoner of war left in either Iraq or Afghanistan – have come through a series of propaganda videos, filmed while he’s been in captivity.
In the video they’re watching now, Bowe doesn’t look good. He’s emaciated, maybe 30 pounds underweight, his face sunken, his eye sockets like caves. He’s wearing a scraggly beard and he’s talking funny, with some kind of foreign accent. Jani presses her left hand across her forehead, as if shielding herself from the images onscreen, her eyes filling with tears. Bob, unable to look away, hits play on the MacBook Pro for perhaps the 30th time. Over and over again, he watches as his only son, dressed in a ragged uniform, begs for someone to rescue him.
“Release me, please!” Bowe screams at the camera. “I’m begging you – bring me home!”
Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl arrived in Afghanistan at the worst possible moment, just as President Barack Obama had ordered the first troop surge in the spring of 2009. Rather than withdraw from a disastrous and increasingly deadly war started by his predecessor, the new commander in chief had decided to escalate the conflict, tripling the number of troops to 100,000 and employing a counterinsurgency strategy that had yet to demonstrate any measurable success. To many on Obama’s staff, who had been studying Lessons in Disaster, a book about America’s failure in Vietnam, the catastrophe to come seemed almost preordained. “My God,” his deputy national security adviser Tom Donilon said at the time. “What are we getting this guy into?” Over the next three years, 13,000 Americans would be killed or wounded in Afghanistan – more than during the previous eight years of war under George W. Bush.
Bowe’s own tour of duty in Afghanistan mirrored the larger American experience in the war – marked by tragedy, confusion, misplaced idealism, deluded thinking and, perhaps, a moment of insanity. And it is with Bowe that the war will likely come to an end. On May 1st, in a surprise visit to Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, President Obama announced that the United States will now pursue “a negotiated peace” with the Taliban. That peace is likely to include a prisoner swap – or a “confidence-building measure,” as U.S. officials working on the negotiations call it – that could finally end the longest war in America’s history. Bowe is the one prisoner the Taliban have to trade. “It could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home,” says a senior administration official familiar with the negotiations. “Especially in an election year, if it’s handled properly.”
Bowe Robert Bergdahl was born in Sun Valley, Idaho, on March 28th, 1986 – the same day as Lady Gaga, as his parents like to point out. Bob and Jani had moved to Idaho from California after college, building a small, two-bedroom home on 40 acres of farmland not far from the small town of Hailey, deep in the mountains of Wood River Valley. His father worked construction, his mother odd jobs, living the life of ski bums, nearly off the grid. In 1983, the year Bowe’s older sister Sky was born, his parents pulled in $7,000 and paid off the hospital bills for her birth with weekly $20 deposits.
Rather than put their kids in the local school system, Jani and Bob home-schooled Bowe and his sister. Devout Calvinists, they taught the children for six hours a day, instructing them in religious thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. “Ethics and morality would be constant verbiage in our conversations,” his father recalls. “Bowe was definitely instilled with truth. He was very philosophical about perceiving ethics.”
By the age of five, Bowe had also learned to shoot a .22 rifle and to ride horses. He developed a love for dirt bikes and immersed himself in boy’s adventure tales – anything that had to do with sailing and the ocean – as well as cartoons. His favorite was Beetle Bailey, the comic-strip antihero who shambles through life in the Army as a permanent fuck-up.
By the time he was 16, Bowe had grown restless with his home-schooling – and his parents. He began to explore the wider world, and became obsessed with learning how to fence. At a nearby fencing studio, which also offered ballet classes, he was recruited by a beautiful local girl to be a “lifter” – the guy who holds the girl aloft in a ballet sequence. He soon moved in with the girl, whose family owned a tea shop in Ketchum, and made it his second home. The matriarch of the household, Kim Harrison, introduced him to Buddhism and Tarot cards. Bowe repaid his new family by doing construction work on their home. “To me, it was the normal path teenagers take,” says Bob. “Like going to college – you get into all this stuff.”
At 20, Bowe went even farther afield in search of the kind of boy’s adventure that had mesmerized him for years: He decided to join the French Foreign Legion, the infantry force made up of foreigners who want “to start a new life,” as the legion’s recruiting website puts it. He traveled to Paris and started to learn French, but his application was rejected. “He was absolutely devastated when the French Foreign Legion didn’t take him,” Bob says. “They just didn’t want an American home-schooled in Idaho. They just said no way.” Bowe pored over a survival and combat handbook written by a former member of the British special forces, and he gravitated toward the TV show Man vs. Wild, hosted by another legendary British soldier. “This became his role model,” his father says. “He is Bear Grylls in his own mind.”
Returning home from Europe, Bowe drifted for the next few years, working mainly as a barista at Zaney’s, a local coffee shop in Hailey. But he kept dreaming of ways to pursue something bigger. In 2008, he spoke to a family friend who was working as a missionary in Uganda about going over to Africa to teach “self-defense techniques” to villagers being targeted by brutal militias like the Lord’s Resistance Army. He and his father even fantasized about the creation of a special operations unit to “kill these fucks” in Africa, imagining that “someone needed to run an op with some military people dressed up like U.N. people” to take out warlords in Darfur and Sudan. Before a spot in the friend’s missionary program could open up, though, Bowe had decided on a different adventure.
One day that spring, Bowe called his mother. “Mom, I need to talk to you and Dad about something,” he said. He stopped by the house that Saturday, when his father was home from work.
“I’m thinking about joining the Army,” Bowe told his parents.
“You’re thinking about joining?” his father asked. “Or you already signed on the dotted line?”
“Well, yeah,” Bowe admitted.
Bowe’s mother wished he had enlisted in a different branch, like the Navy, that wouldn’t have put him on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. His father did what he always did with his son’s dreams. “I just tried to be supportive,” Bob says.
But what Bowe found in the Army, according to his parents, was a “deception” – one that started from the moment he was recruited. Bowe had been enticed to join the Army, they say, with the promise that he would be going overseas to help Afghan villagers rebuild their lives and learn to defend themselves – “the whole COIN thing,” says Bob, citing the shorthand for America’s strategy of counterinsurgency. “We were given a fictitious picture, an artificially created picture of what we were doing in Afghanistan.”
After 16 weeks of training, Bowe graduated from infantry school in Fort Benning, Georgia, in the fall of 2008. While others in his training unit – A Company 2-58 – used their weekend passes to hit up strip clubs, Bowe hung out at Barnes & Noble and read books. He was already an expert shot from his days firing his .22 in the mountains of Idaho. When his parents attended the graduation, the drill sergeant told them, “Bowe was good to go when he got here.” After completing the course, Bowe was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Fort Richardson, Alaska, not far from Anchorage. He arrived in October 2008.
At first, according to soldiers in his unit, Bowe seemed to embrace Army life. “He showed up, looked like a normal Joe,” says former Specialist Jason Fry, who is now studying for a master’s in theology. “When he first got to the unit, he was the leadership’s pet. He read the Ranger Handbook like no other. Some people resented him for it.” Bowe kept to himself, doing physical training on his own. “He never hung out with anyone, always in the background, never wanted to be in front of anything,” says Fry. He surrounded himself with piles of books, including Three Cups of Tea, about a humanitarian crusade to educate girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as instructions on Zen meditation and an introductory ethics handbook with writings from Aristotle, Augustine, Kant and Hume.”
O resto da história pode ser lida aqui. Aviso: é longa.