SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned to the United States early Friday after his release from five years in captivity in Afghanistan in a controversial prisoner swap with the Taliban.
Bergdahl, who has been recovering at an Army medical facility in Germany since his release last month, “will continue the next phase of his reintegration process,” at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
“Our focus remains on his health and well-being,” Kirby said.
Officials in Washington said Bergdahl would be reunited with his family at Brooke and spend an undetermined period there in further recuperation. Early Friday, it was not clear if the family had yet arrived at Fort Sam Houston.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “is confident that the Army will continue to ensure that Sgt. Bergdahl receives the care, time and space he needs to complete his recovery and reintegration,” Kirby said in a statement.
A mass of journalists spent a rainy night crammed into a small parking lot outside Fort Sam Houston. Army officials said no media would be allowed onto the base or in the hospital, and a news conference was scheduled for Friday afternoon at a nearby golf course.
The Idaho native was captured in Afghanistan in June 2009 and released by the Taliban on May 31 in a deal struck by the Obama administration in which five senior Taliban officials were released from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Officials have kept a lid on details of Bergdahl’s condition out of concern that he not be rushed back into the public spotlight after a lengthy period in captivity and amid a public uproar over the circumstances of his capture and release.
The Army has not formally begun a new review into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture and whether he walked away without leave or was deserting the Army when he was found and taken by insurgents.
In a statement Friday, the Army said that after Bergdahl’s reintegration it would “continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity.”
The answers to those questions will be key to whether Bergdahl will receive more than $300,000 in back pay owed to him since he disappeared. If he was determined to have been a prisoner of war, he also could receive roughly another $300,000 or more, if recommended and approved by Army leaders.
Before his departure from Germany on Thursday, officials in Washington said Bergdahl would not receive the automatic Army promotion that would have taken effect this month if he were still in captivity. Now that he is back in U.S. military control, any future promotions would depend on his performance and achievement of certain training and education milestones.
Bergdahl had been at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since June 1, the day after the prisoner exchange.
Many have criticized the Obama administration for agreeing to release five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bergdahl. Some of Bergdahl’s former Army colleagues have accused him of deserting his post.
Critics also have said the five Taliban members could return to the battlefield. Administration officials have told Congress that four of the five Taliban officials likely will rejoin the fight.
In congressional testimony Wednesday, Hagel called the former Taliban government officials “enemy belligerents” but said they hadn’t been implicated in any attacks against the United States. He said Qatar, which has agreed to keep the five inside the country for a year, promised sufficient security measures to warrant making the swap for Bergdahl.
Hagel also said Bergdahl was early in the process of recovering from the trauma of captivity.
“This guy was held for almost five years in God knows what kind of conditions,” Hagel said. “This is not just about ‘Can he get on his feet and walk and get to a plane.'”
Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.