The American soldier freed in a swap with the Afghan Taliban is in stable condition after five years in captivity but has not yet reunited with his parents, military officers said Friday.
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who returned to the United States in an overnight flight, was undergoing medical treatment and speaking to psychologists at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
The 28-year-old soldier “looked good” upon arrival, Major General Joseph DiSalvo told a news conference.
He joked that Bergdahl appeared “a little bit nervous” before a two-star general like himself, “just like any sergeant would.”
Bergdahl was able to walk into the hospital without problems and doctors were encouraged by his stable condition, said Colonel Ronald Wool, a physician at the medical center.
“Overall, we’re pleased with his physical state,” he said.
“We allowed him to get settled in to the hospital and into his room and his environment, and we are going to be planning more comprehensive testing and consultation.”
The only American in uniform to be held by insurgents in the Afghanistan war, Bergdahl will eventually face questions from investigators about the circumstances of his disappearance and whether he deserted his post.
But first, he will receive more medical attention, as specialists gradually try to help him shift from a prisoner’s survival mode to more “normal” behavior, officers said.
“In captivity, fundamentally your decision to make any choice is taken away so we increase their chances to make choices and have a sense of control,” said psychologist Colonel Bradley Poppen.
“We also work to normalize the behaviors, letting them know that copious skills they used in captivity, although functional in that environment, may not be functional now but they were normal at the time.”
Under the military’s “reintegration” rules for freed prisoners of war, Bergdahl is permitted to see his parents but the timing of his eventual reunion remains unclear.
– Request for privacy –
The soldier can decide when to meet family but officials declined to specify a date for his parents’ first visit, to safeguard their privacy.
Amid a media frenzy over his case, Bergdahl’s parents, who live in Idaho, appealed to be left alone while they try to help their son.
“While the Bergdahls are overjoyed that their son has returned to the United States, Mr and Mrs Bergdahl don’t intend to make any travel plans public,” the family said in a statement issued through an Idaho National Guard spokesman, Colonel Tim Marsano.
“They ask for continued privacy as they concentrate on their son’s reintegration.”
His father, Bob Bergdahl, has said his family now faced a long road to aid their son’s recovery.
“It isn’t over for us,” he said last week. “In many ways, it’s just beginning for Jani and I, and our family. There’s a long process here.”
Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance from a base in eastern Afghanistan fueled speculation that the soldier abandoned his post before he was captured and that he may face prosecution by military authorities.
The US Army said it would ensure Bergdahl “receives the necessary care, time and space” to complete his transition after the ordeal.
But it added that once the “reintegration” is complete, “the Army will continue its comprehensive review into the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity.”
Bergdahl has been denounced by some commentators and retired soldiers who say he placed his fellow troops in danger by allegedly walking off the base alone.
A petition to the White House demanding he be prosecuted has attracted tens of thousands of signatures.
Bergdahl’s family has reportedly faced death threats and his hometown of Hailey, Idaho had to cancel a planned celebration for his release due to concerns about security.
The soldier was handed over to US special forces in Afghanistan on May 31 in return for five senior Taliban detainees who were sent to Qatar from the US military-run prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The exchange has triggered outrage among some US lawmakers who have accused President Barack Obama of capitulating to “terrorists” and failing to fulfil his obligations to give Congress advance notice about transfers of Guantanamo detainees.
Bergdahl has yet to speak to the news media about his experience, but some former soldiers in his unit have alleged he walked off the base alone and expressed anger over Bergdahl’s actions.
After he went missing in 2009, the military said he was “absent without leave.”