Did cost of recovering Idaho POW include the life of Utah soldier?

By Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay

MCT News Service

Published: Monday, June 2 2014 9:05 p.m. MDT

A tribute to Staff Sgt. Kurt R. Curtiss sits on a telephone pole outside the Ogden, Utah home of his mother Ruth Serrano August 28, 2009. Staff Sgt. Curtiss was killed in Afghanistan.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

WASHINGTON — For all the yellow ribbons strewn across his hometown in Idaho and the gratitude expressed by his parents in an emotional visit to the White House on Saturday, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may not receive a hero’s welcome from everyone when he returns to the United States after nearly five years in Taliban captivity.

Reports Monday from various news outlets quoted servicemen questioning the cost of bringing home the soldier whose circumstances surrounding capture remain elusive. In addition to the five Taliban members traded to earn his release, at least six soldiers may have lost their lives in attempts to locate Bergdahl, including a Murray, Utah man who was killed in 2009.

Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, 27, of Murray, Utah, died Aug. 26 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. He was part of the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division and was killed as he helped evacuate a hospital under fire.

Time.com named Curtiss and five others from the unit that may have lost their lives in the months following Bergdahl's disappearance. CNN.com also reported the names of servicemen, including Curtiss, who died in connection with the ongoing search, noting patterns of behavior involved in the search made servicemen vulnerable to attack.

Attempts to reach Curtiss's family Monday were unsuccessful.

From military forums across the country, a groundswell of anger is rising over the Obama administration’s silence on perhaps the most controversial question surrounding the deal that freed Bergdahl in exchange for five senior Taliban members: Was he a deserter?

So far, the U.S. government has shied away from the long-nagging question, which raged anew Monday with growing clamor on the Internet about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his unit’s small forward position in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.

Military-related blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages were filled with screeds from commenters accusing Bergdahl of being a “traitor” or a Taliban “collaborator.” The online publication The Daily Beast published a nearly 2,000-word first-person account by a former Army infantry officer who said he was privy to details of Bergdahl’s disappearance and who stated flatly that “he was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”

The mother of one of six soldiers who’ve been identified as being killed in circumstances related to the search for Bergdahl was furious over the opaque handling of the case, telling the Army Times that the Pentagon “really owes the parents of these fallen soldiers the truth.”

But instead of addressing the desertion issue head-on, complained many military analysts and war veterans, the Obama administration is allowing the debate to fester, only deepening the skepticism of current and former service members who demand to know how Bergdahl left his unit, how many U.S. forces were killed in the search effort, and whether there are plans to conduct a legal review of his case and, if necessary, prosecute him.

Michael Waltz, who as an Army major commanded U.S. Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan at the time Bergdahl disappeared, said the sergeant deserted and shouldn’t have been accorded POW status.

“He just walked off after guard duty and wandered into the nearby village,” Waltz told McClatchy in an interview Monday. “This guy needs to be held accountable when the time is right, of course. Every American deserves to come home. I’m happy for his family. But he needs to be held accountable.”

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