Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan prior to his release on May 31. (The Associated Press)
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WASHINGTON — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been recovering in Germany after five years as a Taliban captive, is returning to the United States on Friday, but he will not receive the promotion that would have been automatic had he still been held prisoner.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Thursday that Bergdahl had left Germany on board a U.S. military aircraft and was expected to arrive at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, early Friday morning.
A U.S. official, meanwhile, said the promotion list, which would have boosted Bergdahl to staff sergeant, was expected to be released this week and he would not be on it.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press last week that the promotion would no longer be automatic because Bergdahl is now free and any promotion would be based on routine duty requirements, such as proper levels of training and education as well as job performance.
The U.S. official said medical personnel had determined that Bergdahl was ready to move on to the third phase of his reintegration process, which would happen at Brooke. The official was not authorized to provide details about Bergdahl’s promotion by name and spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity.
Officials had previously 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 and his travel plans 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 that is owed to him since he disappeared in June 2009 from his post in eastern Afghanistan. If he was determined to be a prisoner of war, he also could receive roughly another $300,000 or more, if recommended and approved by Army leaders, according to a U.S. official.
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 from detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for Bergdahl. Some of Bergdahl’s former Army colleagues have accused him of deserting his post.
Republicans and Democrats questioned the wisdom of releasing the five Taliban members, saying they could return to the battlefield. Administration officials have told Congress that four of the five Taliban officials will likely 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 promised 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 on June 1.
“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.”
Bergdahl has not made any public comment since his release, and Pentagon officials say there is no timeline for arranging his initial contact with the news media.