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Who is Bowe Bergdahl? 9 things to know about the US soldier held captive by the Taliban for 5 years

U.S. Army soldier Bowe Bergdahl, 31, will not face prison time for abandoning his outpost in 2009, a military judge ruled Friday.

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Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years, did, however, receive a dishonorable discharge for deserting his post.

Shortly after Friday’s news, President Donald Trump, who criticized Bergdahl on his 2016 presidential campaign trail, called the sentence a “disgrace” in a tweet.

Here are nine things to know about former American prisoner of war Bergdahl:

He’s from Idaho.

He was born in Sun Valley, Idaho, on March 28, 1986, and grew up in Hailey, Idaho, amid the Sawtooth Mountains.

According to The Associated Press, his home was “a humble place with a weather-beaten roof, sits nestled among hills of alder and sage.”

He was home-schooled.

Bergdahl and his older sister were taught at home near Hailey, Idaho, where they lived with parents Robert and Jani Bergdahl.

He received a GED from a local college.

He used to dance ballet.

Bergdahl was a dancer with the Sun Valley Ballet School until his early 20s. He also dabbed in martial arts and fencing and had a love for the outdoors.

Watch one of his ballet performances below:

He once worked as a crewman on a sailboat.

As a crewman, Bergdahl sailed along the East Coast and down to the Caribbean, as well as out of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

He enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.

In 2009, Bergdahl was deployed from his first assignment in Fort Richardson, Alaska, to Outpost Mest Malak in Paktika Province (eastern Afghanistan), as a machine gunner.

Biography.com reported that though Bergdahl told his parents he was initially thrilled by the experience, he eventually “sour[ed] on the purpose of American forces in the region.”

Their mission in Afghanistan was to “get the Taliban,” Bergdahl’s former Army team leader Evan Buetow said.

That means they’d perform combat operations, but also patrol villages, train the Afghan National Police and gather intelligence by earning the respect of locals.

Platoon medic Josh Cornelison told the AP that Bergdahl preferred the humanitarian aspect of the job than the “actual combat side of a deployment. He wasn’t so fond of that at all.”

This is what he said in his last email to his parents from the field:

On June 27, 2009, Bergdahl sent this email to his parents:

“I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live,” he wrote.

Bergdahl also wrote about a time an Army vehicle had run over a local girl, but “we don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.”

His father responded to the email and wrote, “Dear Bowe, In matters of life and death, and especially at war, it is never safe to ignore ones’ conscience.”

Bergdahl’s parents shared the emails with Rolling Stone magazine.

He abandoned his post on June 30 and was captured by the Taliban.

His abandonment on June 30 set off an extensive search that eventually led to the death of at least six servicemen.

The next month, Bergdahl surfaced in a 28-minute online video posted by the Taliban in which he seemed unharmed.

U.S. intelligence believed he was being held captive by the militant Haqqani network, which had ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

He was released on June 13, 2014.

The Taliban posted several more videos over the next five years featuring Bergdahl in deteriorating condition.

Bergdahl later revealed that he had been tortured and brutally beaten, at times spending long stints locked in a cage, where he was chained on all fours.

In 2014, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. had successfully negotiated his release.

The U.S. agreed to release five Taliban members who were being detailed at the Guantanomo Bay Naval Station in Cuba.

But former platoon mates and other critics spoke out against Bergdahl’s being heralded as a hero during his release.

“That’s exactly the opposite of what he is,” Buetow said.

From the AP:

“In Hailey, joy quickly turned to bafflement as townspeople faced an onslaught of hate mail and angry phone calls from people who said Bergdahl doesn’t deserve to be celebrated. A planned welcome-home party was cancelled. His parents are surprised and ‘very hurt’ by the outcry, a former pastor who is in touch with them said.”

About the investigation and charges:

An Army investigation into what led to Bergdahl’s disappearance on June 30, 2009, concluded by charging Bergdahl with “one count of desertion with intent to shirk important or hazardous duty and one count of misbehavior before the enemy by endangering the safety of a command, unit or place.”

Though the second charge could potentially lead to life improsonment, Bergdahl was diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder “at the time of the alleged criminal conduct” in an Army Sanity Board evaulation and now suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder. Investigators recommended he avoid additional incarceration.

Bergdahl spoke about his gruesome experience on the second season of the popular podcast, “Serial,” in 2015 and 2016, and said he initially abandoned his post to rebel against the poor leadership of his Army supervisors and planned to gather intelligence on his own.

After the podcast’s first episode was released, Gen. Robert Abrams, of U.S. Army Forces Command, said he would reject the original investigation charges and referring Bergdahl’s case to a general court-martial.

During the 2016 campaign trail, president-elect Trump suggested Bergdahl should be executed for abandoning his fellow Army soldiers, a comment the defense said hindered the potential of a fair trial. But the trial went on.

Bergdahl put his fate into the hands of military judge Col. Jeffery Nance in August and pleaded guilty to desertion, and misbehavior before the enemy.

On Nov. 3, Nance ruled Bergdahl would not serve prison time, but will be dishonorably discharged. 

Bergdahl’s rank was also reduced from sergeant to E1 and he will be required to pay a $1,000 fine from his salary for 10 months.

Sources: The Associated Press, Biography.com

Judge blocks Trump from barring transgender troops from the military

A federal judge in Washington on Monday temporarily halted President Donald Trump’s decision to bar transgender people from joining the U.S. military.

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In her ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary injunction against Trump’s decision, saying the plaintiffs in the case are likely to succeed in their argument that it violates their due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. Kollar-Kotelly was nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton. 

 >> On MyAJC.com: IN-DEPTH: President Trump: No transgender troops allowed in the U.S. military 

All five plaintiffs — a Coast Guardsmen, three soldiers and an airman with nearly 60 years of combined service — are identified as “Jane Doe” in the lawsuit. They said they want to remain anonymous because they fear retribution. Some have completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lawyers from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, are assisting the plaintiffs. 

>> On MyAJC.com: RELATED: Transgender U.S. service members sue to block Trump’s ban 

The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

US service member killed in Afghanistan helicopter crash

A U.S. service member was killed and six crew members were injured when a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, CNN reported Saturday.

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The helicopter crashed in the Logar province of Afghanistan on Friday evening, CNN reported, citing a statement from the NATO-led coalition in that country, Operation Resolute Support.

The Logar province is just south of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.

According to the statement, the crash did not occur because of enemy action.

"We have full accountability of all personnel and the crash site has been secured," the statement said.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our comrade," said Army Gen. John Nicholson, Resolute Support commander.

"On behalf of all of Resolute Support, our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of our fallen comrade and those injured in this unfortunate event."

US defense secretary Mattis visits Korean DMZ

Standing just a few yards away from North Korea, Defense Secretary James Mattis on Friday criticized the country’s “reckless behavior,” adding that the United States and South Korea were committed to a “diplomatic solution,” CNN reported.

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Mattis spoke during a visit to the demilitarized zone that divides the two Korean nations As he spoke with his back to North Korea, Mattis said the goal of the United States is not war but rather “the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

"North Korean provocations continue to threaten regional and world peace and despite unanimous condemnation by the United Nations' Security Council they still proceed," Mattis said.

Mattis’ trip to South Korea comes a week before President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next week, CNN reported. The defense secretary spoke to troops at the Yongsan garrison after his visit to the DMZ.

“Ultimately our diplomats have to be backed up by strong soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines,” he said. “So they speak from a position of strength, of combined strength, of alliance strength. Shoulder to shoulder, (South Korea) and the U.S. together.

“You just keep working together and show the world we can do it and we'll buy time for our diplomats to solve this problem, OK?”

Sgt. La David Johnson's widow: Trump said, 'He knew what he signed up for'

The widow of a U.S. Army soldier killed in an ambush attack earlier this month in Niger confirmed a congresswoman’s account of a call between her and President Donald Trump on Monday, saying that the president told her that her husband “knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway.”

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Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, was one of four Army soldiers killed in Niger during what officials have described as an advise-and-assist mission in southwestern Niger. The Defense Department identified the other slain soldiers as Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29.

Myeshia Johnson, widow of La David Johnson, told “Good Morning America” on Monday that she is demanding answers in her husband’s death.

>> Related: 4 soldiers killed in ambush: Where is Niger and what are U.S. troops doing there? 

“The president said that he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway,” Myeshia Johnson said, recalling a phone call made by the president as she and her family headed to the airport to pick up La David Johnson’s remains. “It made me cry (because) I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said he couldn’t remember my husband’s name. The only way he remembered my husband’s name is because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him, and that’s when he actually said ‘La David.’”

The president took to Twitter to deny Myeshia Johnson’s account, writing on Monday morning that he “had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson.”

He said he “spoke his name from (the) beginning, without hesitation.”

“I heard him stumbling on trying to remember my husband’s name, and that’s what hurt me the most, because if my husband is out here fighting for our country and he risked his life for our country, why can’t you remember his name?” Myeshia Johnson said Monday.

Myeshia Johnson told “Good Morning America” that the president called the phone of the master sergeant and that she asked the master sergeant to put the phone on speaker, so that her aunt and uncle could hear the call as well. She said that’s how Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, heard the president tell her that her husband “knew what he signed up for.”

>> Related: Funeral held for soldier at center of Trump rift

Trump denied the account multiple times last week, and White House officials slammed Wilson for listening to a conversation between the president and an Army widow.

“Whatever Ms. Wilson said was not fabricated,” Myeshia Johnson told “Good Morning America.” “What she said was 100 percent correct. ... Why would we fabricate something like that?”

The circumstances surrounding the ambush, which happened on Oct. 4, remain under investigation. Among other outstanding questions, authorities are working to determine how, why and when La David Johnson was separated from the team that was ambushed.

>> Related: Who was Sgt. La David Johnson: 7 things to know about the fallen soldier, 'Wheelie King' 

“They didn't know where he was or where to find him, and a couple (of) days later is when they told me that he went from missing to killed in action,” Myeshia Johnson said. “I don’t know how he got killed, where he got killed or anything. I don’t know that part, they never told me, and that’s what I’ve been trying to find out since day one, since October 4th.”

La David Johnson’s body was found by Nigerian forces, according to the Defense department.

“They told me that he’s in a severe, a severe wrap like I won’t be able to see him,” Myeshia Johnson told “Good Morning America.”

“I know my husband’s body from head to toe. And they won’t let me see anything. I don’t know what’s in that box, it could be empty for all I know. But I need, I need to see my husband. I haven’t seen him since he came home.”

John McCain takes apparent jab at Trump during interview about Vietnam War

Sen. John McCain appeared to take a swipe at President Donald Trump during an interview about the Vietnam War on CSPAN-3 American History TV, criticizing people from “the highest income level” who avoided the military draft by finding a doctor who would say that “they had a bone spur,” CNN reported.

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Trump attended the New York Military Academy as a young man and received five military draft deferments during the Vietnam War, CNN reported. One was a medical deferment after he was diagnosed with bone spurs in his foot. 

It’s the latest war of words between the Arizona Republican and the president. During the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump claimed McCain was not a was hero because he was captured during the Vietnam War. Trump never apologized for the remarks, and McCain has since been one of his most vocal Republican critics in Congress, CNN reported.

“One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest income level of America and the highest income level found a doctor that would say they had a bone spur,” McCain told C-SPAN3. “That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”

McCain never mentions Trump by name in the interview, but the President's deferment because of a bone spur is widely known and his family was well off at the time.

Trump told The New York Times in 2016 that a doctor "gave me a letter -- a very strong letter -- on the heels."

"Over a period of time, it healed up," he said.

McCain spent five years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, declining to be released despite being the son of an admiral.

Air Force may recall up to 1,000 retired pilots

The U.S. Air Force may recall as many as 1,000 retired military pilots to active duty because of an executive order signed Friday by President Donald Trump,  ABC News reported.

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By law, only 25 retired pilots can be recalled through voluntary programs to serve in any one branch of military service, but Trump’s executive order removes that limit, ABC News reported. The order expands the national state of emergency declared in 2001 by President George W. Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as part of an effort “to mitigate the Air Force’s acute shortage of pilots,” said Navy Commander Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman.

Secretary of Air Force Heather Wilson said the service was short by 1,555 pilots -- including 1,211 fighter pilots -- at the end of the 2016 fiscal year.

"We anticipate that the Secretary of Defense will delegate the authority to the Secretary of the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years," Ross said in a statement Friday. "The pilot supply shortage is a national level challenge that could have adverse effects on all aspects of both the government and commercial aviation sectors for years to come."

Australia receives ‘unprecedented’ letter from North Korea

In an unusual step, North Korea has sent an open letter addressed to parliaments in several countries, declaring itself a “full-fledged nuclear power” and accusing President Donald Trump of “trying to drive the world into a horrible nuclear disaster,” CNN reported.

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Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the letter, dated Sept. 28, “unprecedented” and posted a copy of the cover letter on her verified Facebook page.

Her office confirmed to CNN that the letter, which was published by The Sydney Morning Herald, was genuine.

The letter appears to have been distributed a week after Trump’s address to the United Nations Security Council, after the president said that if the United States was forced to defend itself or its allies, it would have no choice “but to totally destroy North Korea.”

In the letter, North Korea condemned Trump’s statement and reiterated that it was tantamount to a declaration of war, CNN reported.

In the letter, North Korea condemned that statement as tantamount to a declaration of war, something North Korean officials said shortly after the speech. The United States denied that Trump had declared war on North Korea, which is also known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

“If Trump thinks that he would bring the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea), a nuclear power, to its knees through nuclear war threat, it will be a big miscalculation and an expression of ignorance,” the letter said, according to CNN.

"I see (the letter) it as evidence that the collective strategy of imposing maximum diplomatic and economic pressure through sanctions on North Korea is working," Bishop said.

4 soldiers killed in ambush: Where is Niger and what are U.S. troops doing there?

Questions remain in the aftermath of an ambush attack on a group including U.S. Army soldiers in Niger that left four American service members dead on Oct. 4.

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Defense Department officials said Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, 39, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29 and Sgt. La David Johnson, 25, were killed in an attack during an advise-and-assist mission in southwestern Niger.

The circumstances that led to the attack remain under investigation.

The American military operation in Niger is one of about 20 in Africa and part of the U.S. Africa Command, according to NPR. The command is aimed at building military relations with African nations and other key players in the region. It began operations in 2007.

Here is what we know about Niger and U.S. military presence in the country:

Where is Niger?

Niger is a landlocked country in western Africa, bordered by Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Algeria and Libya.

The country became independent from France in 1960. Political instability and a series of military coups followed.

Is Niger generally safe for Americans?

The U.S. State Department in April issued a warning for Americans traveling in Niger to stay away from “locations frequented by Westerners” and to keep to hotels with armed Nigerien security officers because of the risk of terror attacks and kidnapping threats against Westerners.

“Niger’s southeastern border with Nigeria and east of Maradi are poorly controlled,” State Department officials said. “Boko Haram and several factions affiliated with ISIS have conducted cross-border attacks into Niger. The government of Niger has increased its security forces in the border areas, but the situation remains unstable and travel is not advised.”

What about for soldiers – is it generally safe?

Despite the threat of violence, officials said the Oct. 4 deaths were the first American service members to be killed in combat in Niger.

“I think clearly there's risk for our forces in Niger,” said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff. “Any time we deploy full forces globally, we will look very hard at the enablers that need to be in place in order to provide security for them. And that ranges from the ability to pull them out if they are injured, to the ability to reinforce them at the point of a fight if they … need reinforcement. We look at all those things and evaluate on a continual basis.”

How big is the American military presence there?

Officials with the Defense Department said this month that about 1,000 troops in the region work with about 4,000 French service members. The U.S. military has had some presence in the country since 2012, according to CNN.

What are U.S. soldiers doing there?

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said U.S. armed forces have been working for years with West African nations to combat the threat of terrorism.

The Army soldiers killed in the Oct. 4 attack were assisting with Nigerien security force counterterrorism operations about 125 miles north of Niamey, the country’s capitol city, according to thee Defense Department.

“We’re providing refueling support, intelligence support, surveillance support,” Defense Secretary James Mattis said. “But also we have troops on the ground. Their job is to help the people in the region learn how to defend themselves. We call it foreign internal defense training, and we actually do these kinds of missions by, with and through our allies.”

Taliban hostage rescued after 5 years in captivity didn't believe Trump was president

A Canadian man who had been held in Afghanistan for five years by Taliban-tied kidnappers revealed that he thought his kidnapper was joking when he said Donald Trump was president of the United States.

Joshua Boyle said one of his captors told him Trump was president just before he was forced to film a “proof-of-life” video, according to the Toronto Star.

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“It didn’t enter my mind that he was being serious,” Boyle said.

The Boyle family, including Joshua, his American-born wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their three young children, who were all born in captivity, were rescued by Pakistani forces after U.S. intelligence informed them of the of the family’s location.

The family was in the trunk of a car being transferred to another location when their kidnappers engaged in a shootout with Pakistani forces. Some of their kidnappers died in the fight while others fled, but the entire family made it to safety.

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