Michael Hastings in a crowd at Election Night 2012

A look back at Michael Hastings’ prophetic article on POW Bowe Bergdahl

When the Republicans scream that they were caught totally by surprise by the prisoner exchange that in all likelihood marks the winding down of the US war on Afghanistan, they are of course lying.

For one thing, GOP strategists were shopping around interviews with cherry-picked members of Bergdahl’s unit even as Obama was in the Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents heralding the exchange as the return of America’s last POW.

For another, House and Senate Republicans had known about the negotiations to free America’s last POW since January of 2012.

For yet another, the GOP strategists probably didn’t vet the military histories of the persons they’re shoving in front of every microphone they can find, as it turns out that the unit in question was a problem unit, and a badly led one, well before it reached Afghanistan.

Rolling Stone just reprinted “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” the 2012 Bergdahl article by the late journalist Michael Hastings:

The discipline problems that had plagued Bowe’s unit back home only got worse when immersed in the fog of war. From the start, everything seemed to go wrong. In April, Lt. Fancey was removed from his post for clashing with a superior officer. He was replaced by Sgt. 1st Class Larry Hein, who had never held such a command – a move that left the remote outpost with no officers. According to four soldiers in the battalion, the removal of Fancey was quickly followed by a collapse in unit morale and an almost complete breakdown of authority.

The unruly situation was captured by Sean Smith, a British documentary filmmaker with The Guardian who spent a month embedded with Bowe’s unit. His footage shows a bunch of soldiers who no longer give a shit: breaking even the most basic rules of combat, like wearing baseball caps on patrol instead of helmets. In footage from a raid on a family compound, an old Afghan woman screams at the unit, ‘Look at these cruel people!’ One soldier bitches about what he sees as the cowardice of the Afghan villagers he is supposed to be protecting: ‘They say like, the Taliban comes down and aggravated­ their town and harasses them… Why don’t you kill those motherfuckers? All of you have AKs. If someone is going into my hometown, I know my town wouldn’t stand for that shit. I’d be like, “Fuck you, you’re dead.”‘ Another soldier laments, ‘These people just want to be left alone.’ A third agrees: ‘They got dicked with by the Russians for 17 years, and now we’re here.’

Crossposted to Mercury Rising.

Photo by John Santore released under a Creative Commons license.