KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban on Friday issued a new video tape of a captured American soldier ridiculing the war in Afghanistan as “our next Vietnam,” a move the U.S. military condemned as a cruel piece of Christmas Day propaganda.
The parents of Idaho National Guard Private Bowe Bergdahl, who was taken prisoner in Afghanistan this summer and is the only known U.S. soldier in captivity there, issued an appeal for his release and urged their son to “stay strong.”
Bergdahl, whose identity was confirmed by his family, appears in the video wearing sunglasses and a U.S. military-style uniform, including a military helmet.
He gives his name, hometown and other personal details before saying he is a prisoner of war of the Taliban. It is not clear when the video, the second of him released since his capture, was made.
He goes on to attack U.S. leaders for their treatment of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan and warns that the military is no match for the Taliban.
“I’m afraid to tell you that this war has slipped from our fingers and it’s just going to be our next Vietnam unless the American people stand up and stop all this nonsense,” he says.
But a military spokesman said the statements should be considered coerced, and condemned the timing of its release.
“This is a horrible act which exploits a young soldier, who was clearly compelled to read a prepared statement. It reflects nothing more than the violent, deceitful tactics of the Taliban insurgency,” said U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, director of communication, with NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
“To release this video on Christmas Day is an affront to the deeply-concerned family and friends of Bowe Bergdahl, demonstrating contempt for religious traditions and the teachings of Islam. We will continue our search for Bowe Bergdahl,” he said in a written statement.
Bergdahl’s parents, who live near the central Idaho town of Hailey, just south of the upscale Sun Valley ski resort, were notified of the video on Friday, said Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Marsano of the Idaho National Guard.
“The Bergdahl family pleads with the captors to let our only son come home,” his parents said in a brief statement issued on their behalf by Marsano. They added: “To Bowe: we love you and we believe in you. Stay strong.”
The parents, who Marsano declined to further identify, were unable to view the video for themselves because of a major power outage that left them without television or Internet service on Friday. They spoke instead with a relative elsewhere in the state who had seen it, and it was described to them.
In the video, Bergdahl tells his fellow soldiers they are facing a well-organized and patient enemy — perhaps a reference to a statement made by the White House last month saying the United States would not be in Afghanistan in nine years’ time.
“To all you soldiers out there who are getting ready to come over here for the first time because of the stupidity of our country and leaders ... you are fighting very smart people who know exactly how to kill us and are extremely patient.”
A spokesman for the Taliban also urged the U.S. government in the video to make a prisoner swap deal for Bergdahl.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has demanded and still demands release of a limited number of prisoners in exchange for this American prisoner, Bowe Robert Bergdahl.”
The soldier, who was 23 when he was captured by the Taliban in southeastern Afghanistan in late June, was in good health, Zabihullah Mujahid said.
He appeared healthy and said he had been well-treated, contrasting his fate to that of prisoners held in U.S. military prisons, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“I bear witness I was continuously treated as a human being, with dignity, and I had nobody deprive me of my clothes and take pictures of me naked. I had no dogs barking at me or biting me as my country has done to their Muslim prisoners in the jails that I have mentioned,” the man said.
In July, Bergdahl appeared in a video urging the U.S. government to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, which was denounced by the Pentagon as Taliban propaganda that violated international law.
The capture and detention of the soldier comes amid the bloodiest period in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ouster by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
In a bid to quell mounting violence, Washington has begun the gradual dispatch of some 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, with plans to start pulling them out in July 2011.
There are about 110,000 foreign troops, more than half of them Americans, fighting the militants.
Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Jonathon Burch; additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; writing by Emma Graham-Harrison, editing by Sugita Katyal and Sandra Maler