WASHINGTON – Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, is returning to the United States.
Before his departure from Germany on Thursday, officials in Washington said Bergdahl will 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.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Bergdahl was flying from Ramstein Air Base in Germany to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, arriving early Friday.
"Our first priority is making sure that Sgt. Bergdahl continues to get the care and support he needs," Kirby said in a statement announcing his departure.
The Idaho native was expected to be reunited with his family in San Antonio. He 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 previously had said the intention was for Bergdahl to be reunited with his family at Brooke and to spend an undetermined period there in further recuperation.
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.
Officials also said Thursday that the Army has not yet 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.
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.
Bergdahl was released from Taliban captivity on May 31 and has been at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since June 1.
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, Defense Secretary Chuck 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. He said that process began with his arrival at Landstuhl.
"He's being held there because our medical professionals don't believe he's ready. ... This isn't just about a physical situation," Hagel said. "This guy was held for almost five years in God knows what kind of conditions. ... This is not just about can he get on his feet and walk and get to a plane."