The furious search for Sergeant Bergdahl, his critics say, led to the deaths of at least two soldiers and possibly six others in the area. Pentagon officials say those charges are unsubstantiated and are not supported by a review of a database of casualties in the Afghan war.
“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”
Sergeant Bergdahl slipped away from his outpost, the former senior officer said, possibly on foot but more likely hiding in a contractor’s vehicle. “He didn’t walk out the gate through a checkpoint, and there was no evidence he breached the perimeter wire and left that way,” the ex-officer said.
It was not until the 9 a.m. roll call on June 30 that the 29 soldiers of Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company, learned he was gone.
“I was woken up by my platoon leader,” said Mr. Cornelison, who had gone to sleep just three hours before after serving watch from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. “Hey Doc,” his platoon leader said. “Have you seen Bergdahl?”
The soldiers began a frantic search for Sergeant Bergdahl using Predator drones, Apache attack helicopters and military tracking dogs. The most intense search operation, leaked war reports show, wound down after eight days — well before the deaths of six soldiers on patrols in Paktika Province in late August and early September. But, complicating matters, some soldiers contend they were effectively searching for 90 days because of clear orders: If they heard rumors from locals that Sergeant Bergdahl might be nearby, they should patrol the area.
A review of the database of casualties in the Afghan war suggests that Sergeant Bergdahl’s critics appear to be blaming him for every American soldier killed in Paktika Province in the four-month period that followed his disappearance.