Some former comrades have accused Bergdahl - who was captured in
unknown circumstances on June 30, 2009 - of walking away from his
unit in Afghanistan, prompting a massive manhunt they say cost the
lives of at least six fellow soldiers.
Bergdahl was freed last week in a controversial prisoner-swap deal
with the Taliban brokered by the Qatari government. Five Taliban
militants were released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, and flown to Qatar.
"I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. solders
dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl,"
Hagel told a news conference after a meeting of NATO defense
ministers in Brussels.
The army has announced it will review all the circumstances
surrounding Bergdahlís disappearance, he said.
"Until we get the facts, until we have ... a review of all the
circumstances, it is not in the interest of anyone and certainly I
think a bit unfair to Sergeant Bergdahlís family and to him to
presume anything. We donít do that in the United States. We rely on
facts," Hagel said.
Hagel had a 10-minute telephone conversation on Wednesday with
Bergdahl's parents in which he promised the military would give him
full support in "his medical care and reintegration", a senior
defense official said. He added that Hagel "wanted them to know that
the focus was on their son's health".
Republican members of the U.S. Congress have said President Barack
Obama set a dangerous precedent with the swap for Bergdahl - who is
undergoing physical and mental assessments at a military hospital in
Germany - and might have broken the law.
Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was asked if he thought
Bergdahl still deserved to be a sergeant.
"Itís not my place as a former sergeant in the United States Army,
which I am very proud of, to decide who is worthy of being a
sergeant and who isnít and I think any further talk of that is
irresponsible," Hagel replied.
[to top of second column]
"Let's get the facts, but let's first focus on getting Sergeant
Bergdahl well, getting his health back, getting him reunified with
his family," Hagel said.
"Let's not forget Sergeant Bergdahl is a member of the United States
armed forces ... The United States of America has, and always will
have, responsibility for getting its soldiers back. Other questions
and facts regarding Sergeant Bergdahl will be dealt with at a later
time," he added.
Obama defended on Tuesday the operation to rescue Bergdahl, saying
the United States was committed to freeing its prisoners of war
regardless of how they were captured.
A video released by the Taliban showed a dazed Bergdahl being led by
two militants, one carrying a makeshift white flag on a stick, to a
Blackhawk helicopter in eastern Afghanistan ending his captivity.
The Pentagon says Bergdahl is in a stable condition at the U.S.
Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Officials have indicated
there is little desire to pursue any disciplinary action against him
given what he has been through.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft and David Brunnstrom; editing by David
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