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Continued: Bowe Bergdahl's captors: Who, where and why?

  • Article by: DAVID ZUCCHINO, DAVID S. CLOUD and SHASHANK BENGALI , Tribune Washington Bureau
  • Last update: June 15, 2014 - 9:06 PM

The successful drone strike raised fears in the White House and Pentagon that one of Bergdahl’s guards might try to kill him in revenge. It’s unclear who took charge of Bergdahl after Sangeen’s death.

Although it is closely aligned with Taliban movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Haqqani group is an independent network of experienced fighters. It has been blamed for some of the boldest attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, including a daylong siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in September 2011.

U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, of supporting the Haqqani network, including organizing the U.S. Embassy attack. Pakistan denies the allegations.

Unlike the Afghan Taliban, which has not targeted Americans outside Afghanistan, Haqqani leaders have sought to launch attacks on the U.S. homeland.

In the most dramatic case, U.S. intelligence officials linked Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistan-American who attempted to set off a massive car bomb in New York’s Times Square in May 2010, to the Haqqani network and the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehrik-i-Taliban, or TTP. The plot failed only because the homemade bomb failed to explode.

Bergdahl was captured at a pivotal time in the U.S. counter-terrorism battle against the Haqqani network. In August 2009, just more than a month after Bergdahl disappeared, a CIA drone attack killed Baitullah Mehsud, a TTP leader with close ties to Sangeen and the Haqqani network.

Four months later, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan that helped direct drone strikes against Haqqani targets across the border. Among those killed were seven American CIA officers and contractors, the highest CIA toll in 25 years.

The TTP claimed responsibility and said the attack was in retaliation for the drone strike that killed Mehsud.

The U.S. search for Bergdahl, and his ultimate release, involved an array of U.S. and foreign military and intelligence agencies.

It also included a private intelligence outfit called the Eclipse Group that was run by a former top CIA operations officer, Duane “Dewey” Clarridge.

In 1991, Clarridge was indicted on seven counts of perjury in the Iran-Contra scandal but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush before his trial was over. He has said he maintained a network of spies and informants in Afghanistan and Pakistan after he left the CIA.

A former Eclipse member said the group paid local informants to collect intelligence, which was passed on to U.S. military commanders searching for Bergdahl. The group said it had access to informants in the Taliban and the Haqqani network, including one of Bergdahl’s jailers.

A former senior U.S. military officer involved in the hunt for Bergdahl said the Eclipse reports contained both rumors and fact.

Some of the information checked out, the former officer said. But other tips, including alleged locations for Bergdahl, did not, he said.

But he said U.S. special operations commanders searching for Bergdahl wanted to keep receiving the reports.

“We take everything we can get,” he said.

A 56-page file of Eclipse intelligence reports from July 2009 to August 2012 claimed that Bergdahl was high on marijuana when he was captured. The former officer said U.S. military officials believed Bergdahl had smoked marijuana the night he walked off his outpost five years ago.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the Eclipse reports. Clarridge, reached at his home in Leesburg, Va., also declined to discuss his group’s reports.

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  • Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, sits in a vehicle guarded by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan.

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