US Sgt. Bergdahl says 'fantastic' plan crumbled hours after leaving post

Bergdahl Says He Only Wanted to Draw Attention When He Left His Post in Afghanistan

March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had devised what he told a military investigator was a "fantastic plan" to leave his post so he could inform higher-ups about problems in the ranks, but that fell apart when he realized he took on more than he could manage.

Bergdahl, 29, who walked away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009 and became a Taliban prisoner for five years, is facing a court-martial with a potential life sentence on charges of desertion and endangerment of U.S. troops.

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In a 371-page interview made public on Wednesday, Bergdahl said he was frustrated and concerned about the command at his post in Afghanistan, seeing it as incompetent, immoral and putting soldiers' lives in danger.

He devised a scheme to leave and travel by foot to a military command about 20 miles away, with his disappearance causing a full-scale search. When he arrived, he thought this would get him an audience with a general to air his grievances.

"I came up with a fantastic plan," he told the military investigator in 2014 about three months after his release. "I was seeing things heading in a very dangerous direction. So, I had to do something."

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US Sgt. Bergdahl says 'fantastic' plan crumbled hours after leaving post
SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 13: (From left) Colonel Bradley Poppen, Ph.D., Major General Joseph P. DiSalvo, and Colonel Ronald N. Wool deliver a press conference at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course July 13, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. They are reporting on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, his return to the United States, and reintegration at Brooke Army Medical Center after being a prison of war under Taliban captivity. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 31: President Barack Obama walks with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Jani Bergdahl (L) and Bob Bergdahl (R) back to the Oval Office after making a statement regarding the release of Sgt. Bergdahl from captivity May 31, 2014 in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was held captive by militants for almost five years during the war in Afghanistan. (Photo by J.H. Owen-Pool/Getty Images)
Bob Bergdahl, the father of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, speaks following the release of his son, US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. US President Barack Obama and the Bergdahl's spoke after the release of Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of freed prisoner of war US Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl including representatives of the ANSWER Coalition, CODEPINK and March Forward, rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, June 10, 2014, to welcome Bergdahl home after 5-years of being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testifies before the House Armed Services Committee about the about the prisoner exchange that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. The trade of Bergdahl for five senior Taliban officials has angered some members of Congress because they were not informed of the swap beforehand. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 11: U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel listens during a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee June 11, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to examine the exchange of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay for the release of U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl who had been held for almost five years by the insurgents in Afghanistan. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
HAILEY, ID - JUNE 01: A sign announcing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in the window of the Hailey Paint and Supply store on Main Street June 1, 2014 in Hailey, Idaho. Sgt. Bergdahl was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 while serving with U.S. Armys 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment in Paktika Province. Yesterday he was released after a swap for 5 prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay was arranged. Bergdahl was considered the only U.S. prisoner of war held in Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

He left at night and was captured the next day by the Taliban.

"By daylight, I will admit I was in over my head," he said in the transcript released by Bergdahl's lawyer Eugene Fidell, of an interview with Army investigator, Major General Kenneth Dahl, in 2014.

At the end of the interview, Dahl mentioned desertion, AWOL and fraudulent enlistment offenses to Bergdahl but made no mention of the more serious charge of endangering U.S. troops, which carries up to a life sentence, according to the transcript.

At an evidentiary hearing in Texas in September 2015, Dahl said he did not believe Bergdahl should be jailed for what he did. He said Bergdahl was not a Taliban sympathizer and characterized him as an unrealistically idealistic soldier.

Dahl also said no soldiers directly involved in the search for him were killed.

U.S. military prosecutors have said Bergdahl sneaked off his post, resulting in a 45-day search that put soldiers' lives at risk and diverted attention from the fight against the Taliban.

Bergdahl was freed in a prisoner swap in May 2014 involving the release of five Taliban leaders held by the United States. The deal drew heavy criticism from Republicans.

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