WASHINGTON, June 2, 2014 – At the White House, President Barack Obama stood with Bob and Jani Bergdahl as they thanked the governments of the United States, Qatar and Afghanistan, the military services, and all supporters of their son Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl during his nearly five years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
Bergdahl, at the time a private first class, went missing from his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He was the only U.S. service member known to be held captive there. The now 28-year-old soldier was thought captured by the Haqqani network, an Islamist insurgent group operating in Afghanistan.
The Army promoted Bergdahl twice while he was being held in Afghanistan, first in June 2010 to the rank of specialist, and then in June 2011 to the rank of sergeant.
The sergeant, now 28, is assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, in Alaska.
Bergdahl last appeared in a proof-of-life video that surfaced last January and military officials said at the time they believed the video to be recently made.
“This morning I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl and told them that after nearly five years in captivity their son Bowe is coming home,” Obama said.
Sgt. Bergdahl has missed birthdays, holidays and the simple moments with family and friends that most people take for granted, the president added, but he was never forgotten.
Bergdahl’s parents and his older sister Sky prayed every day for his safe return, Obama said. His Idaho community and the military never forgot him and neither did his country, the president added, “because the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”
As commander in chief, Obama said, “I am proud of the service members who recovered Sgt. Bergdahl and brought him safely out of harm’s way. As usual, they performed with extraordinary courage and professionalism and they have made their nation proud.”
Obama said the priority now is to make sure Bergdahl gets the care and support he needs and that he is reunited with his family as soon as possible.
The president said he is grateful for the tireless work of the nation’s diplomats and for cooperation by the government of Qatar in helping secure the soldier’s release.
“We’ve worked for several years to achieve this goal, and earlier this week I was able to personally thank the Emir of Qatar for his leadership in helping us get it done,” Obama said, adding that as part of the effort the United States is transferring five detainees from the prison in Guantanamo Bay to Qatar.
“The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security,” he added. “I also want to express gratitude to the Afghan government, which always supported our efforts to secure Bowe’s release.”
Going forward, the president said, the United States will continue to support an Afghan-led process of reconciliation that could help secure a hard-earned peace within a sovereign and unified Afghanistan.
“As I said earlier this week, we’re committed to winding down the war in Afghanistan and we are committed to closing Gitmo. But we also made an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home,” Obama said.
“That’s who we are as Americans,” he added. “It’s a profound obligation within our military and today, at least in this instance, it’s a promise we’ve been able to keep.”
The president said he is mindful of the many troops from past wars who remain missing.
“That’s why we’re never going to forget, [and] we’re never going to give up our search for service members who remain unaccounted for,” Obama said. “We also remain deeply committed to securing the release of American citizens who are unjustly detained abroad and deserve to be reunited with their families.”
Turning to the Bergdahls, Obama said, “As a parent I can’t imagine the hardship you guys have gone through. As president, I know that I speak for all Americans when I say that we cannot wait for the moment when you are reunited and your son Bowe is back in your arms.”
Jani Bergdahl thanked everyone who has supported her son, and Bob Bergdahl spoke a few phrases in Pashto, saying that his son is having trouble speaking English after nearly five years in captivity in Afghanistan.
“The complicated nature of this recovery will never really be comprehended,” Bergdahl’s father said. “To each and every one who effected this, in this country, in the service branches, at the State Department, throughout the American government and international governments around the world, thank you so much.”
After the Bergdahls’ remarks, Obama hugged each of them and, with his arms still around Jani Bergdahl he said, “It’s a good day.”
“Yes,” she answered, turning to walk back toward the White House with the president and her husband, “it’s a good day.