U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, in a Nov. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has accused Joint Special Operations Command of leading a botched effort to pay a ransom to bring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home.
Hunter, not naming his sources, alleges that JSOC, attempted to make a payment to the Haqqani Network between January and February of this year. An Afghan intermediary allegedly “disappeared” with the cash, Hunter states in his letter.
Also concerning, Hunter said, is that he has been repeatedly told by Pentagon officials that no such ransom payment was ever attempted.
“Given the significance of this matter, as well as the facts that Pentagon officials have denied that a payment was even considered, and you also said you were unaware of any such attempt, I ask that you immediately inquire with JSOC to determine the specific order of events,” Hunter tells SecDef in his letter.
The Department of Defense has yet to respond, according to Hunter’s deputy chief of staff Joe Kasper. A spokesman with U.S. Special Operations Command did not immediately respond to an Army Times request for comment.
It’s Hunter’s view that if JSOC attempted to make the exchange, that it was operating outside it’s lane, Kasper said.
“There has to be other layers of authority that look at these types of things specifically, unless you’re talking about a rescue mission where JSOC is the go-to,” Kasper said. “The Department of Defense should be the tip of the spear for recovering Americans in hostile areas.”
In cases of civilian hostages, family members have been warned that they could be prosecuted for paying ransoms to terrorist groups. The parents of captured American journalist James Foley publicly complained about the blunt, insensitive manner in which the government threatened them with prosecution should they independently try to pay their son’s ransom.
A rescue mission failed and ransom was not paid. A video emerged in August in which a masked Islamic State member beheaded Foley about 21 months after he was captured in Syria. A second video depicting a similar execution of Foley’s fellow journalist and captive Steven Sotloff was released about two weeks later.
Bergdahl was released by the Haqqani Network in May in what the government described as a prisoner exchange for five Taliban officials captured by the U.S., who were handed over to Qatar. The State Department spearheaded the deal, which also generated controversy at the time since the Haqqani Network has been designated a terrorist organization.
Bergdahl was captured five years ago in Paktika province in Afghanistan. The circumstances around his disappearance from his unit remain under investigation; he has been accused of some within his platoon of desertion. Kasper echoed Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said those circumstances had no bearing on efforts to rescue Bergdahl.