Three of the six soldiers said to have been killed in the hunt for Taliban prisoner Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl were killed in action by enemy fire on other missions not associated with the search, a solider who served with Bergdahl told TheBlaze.
The soldier said he wants to set the record straight and to let the families of the fallen know their loved ones did not die in vain.
The soldier served with Bergdahl in Afghanistan's Paktika province. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said he could no longer keep quiet and abide by an Army gag order placed on the battalion, because he believes the families deserve to know their soldiers were performing other missions unrelated to the search for Bergdahl, who was freed this weekend after five years in captivity in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
"I have very strong feeling about Bergdahl but I believe it is unfair to the men who died to have their faces associated with his," the soldier said. "Staff Sgt. Clayton P. Bowen, Staff Sgt. Michael C. Murphrey and Spc. Morris L. Walker* did not die in the search for Bergdahl."
"Bowen and Walker were killed in an IED during election week when we were guarding the polls," he said. "Murphrey died on a typical reconnaissance mission that was in no way a search for Bergdahl. I think it is a great injustice to say that they sacrificed their lives looking for him."
"I think someone who was very heated at the beginning of this must have said that in order to bring maximum attention to Bergdahl’s guilt as a deserter," he continued. "This is just not the case and I do not think their families deserve to have their loved ones deaths associated with him."
His claims follow a report by the New York Times this week also casting doubt on the number of soldiers killed searching for Bergdahl.
Murphrey, 25, was killed on Sept. 6, 2009 after his unit hit an improvised explosive device. According to an Associated Press report, Brig. Gen. Keith Walker told hundreds of people at a memorial in Clyde, Texas, that the young soldier always put others before himself. He joined the military shortly after graduating from high school. He was assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska, after spending time at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The report makes no mention of Bergdahl.
According to the Military Times, Bowen, 29, of San Antonio, Texas, was also with the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Fort Richardson, Alaska. He died on Aug. 18, 2009 in Dila, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Walker also died in the same attack, according to the Times. Neither of those stories mention Bergdahl either.
The soldier who spoke with TheBlaze did not dispute reports that 2nd Lt. Darryn Andrews was killed searching for Bergdahl. Andrews' parents told the Daily Mail that they were angry that the Army lied to them regarding the circumstances surrounding their son's death, saying commanders told them their son was blown up while hunting a Taliban commander. It was only after Bergdahl was freed after five years in captivity did they learn the truth, they said. Staff Sgt. Kurt Curtiss and Pfc. Matthew Michael Martinek were also believed killed in the search, information not disputed by TheBlaze's source.
The Daily Mail, Daily Beast, Time and the Washington Times are among numerous other national media news outlets that have published reports indicating Murphrey, Walker and Bowen were killed in the search of Bergdahl.
Asked to clarify the causes of death for the soldiers killed in search of Bergdahl, Pentagon officials referred TheBlaze to Army spokesman David Patterson. Patterson told TheBlaze Thursday that the Army would not be making any comment on the gag order or those killed during the search.
"I'll refer you to [Army Gen. Ray] Odierno's statement," Patterson said before hanging up.
Odierno said Wednesday that "it was always a high priority that every soldier deployed to Afghanistan would return home," and that "we will never leave a fallen comrade behind."
"Now that Sgt. Bergdahl is back and under our control, first and foremost we must ensure his health is taken care of and he is properly reintegrated," the top Army commander added. "At the appropriate time, we will conduct a thorough, transparent and complete review of the circumstances surrounding his capture."
Soldiers who served with Bergdahl and their families have been outraged by the Obama administration's deal to swap Bergdahl for five top Taliban commanders being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The controversial swap has left lawmakers baffled as to why they were not briefed before the deal was made with enemy combatants. The prisoners have been listed as high-risk and the Taliban had been pushing for years for their release.
There are currently 149 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay.
*Walker's rank was initially PFC, but upon his death he was automatically promoted to specialist.
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