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By CNN chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper
(CNN) – It was nothing short of explosive when former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" that his squad knew from “radio interceptions” that Bowe Bergdahl – who had just disappeared from his unit in Afghanistan – “was looking for someone who spoke English so he could talk to the Taliban.”
Pressed for more information, Bergdahl’s team leadersaid he had been “standing right next to the radio when they heard that there is an American in a village called Yahya Khail, which was about two miles from where we were at.
“And it's a village that has a very, very large presence of Taliban; That the American is in Yahya Khail. He's looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban. And I heard it straight from the interpreter's lips as he heard it over the radio,” Buetow said.
The next day, former Army Staff Sgt. Justin Gerleve, Bergdahl’s former squad leader, told CNN's "The Lead" that he had been “standing there with Evan when those communications came across. As far as what exactly was said, I don't want to really say it, quote it. But there was talk that he was running around looking for people to speak English and wanted to seek out the Taliban.”
Could it have been someone else?
There was no “other American out there running around or doing what activity, you know, that was reported to us, except for him on that day,” Gerleve said.
The Army war logs leaked to WikiLeaks records a similar report though without the very significant Taliban detail.
“UPDATE: 1012z GUARDRAIL REPORTS PICKED UP LLVI TRAFFIC AT GRID VB 6597 3366 THAT STATES (UIM INDICATES THAT AN AMERICAN SOLDIER IS TALKING AND IS LOOKING FOR SOMEONE WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH. INDICATES AMERICAN SOLDIER HAS CAMERA),” the log states.
When asked about the discrepancy, Buetow says that the WikiLeak transmission is simply incomplete.
“I heard it with my own ears,” he said.
The war logs are not 100% comprehensive, and two on-the-record sources are not insignificant, though the omission of the Taliban detail has some in the U.S. government wondering about reliability of the soldiers’ memories, five years after the fact.
But assuming the account of Buetow and Gerleve is accurate, one former government official involved in the case cautions that Bergdahl, who was a private at the time, seeking the Taliban does not necessarily mean nefarious intent.
“This is just one of a range of potential explanations,” the official said. “But that report tracks with other indicators of a sort of messianic mission on his part to stop the violence and perhaps help broker an understanding with the local Taliban. If this was his motive, it throws things into a bit different light.”
Buetow said, “That could be a possibility," noting that "he was upset with the way we were handling the war effort while in Afghanistan. He just never gave me specifics on what it was he was frustrated with.
“It's hard to tell. … There are so many varying suspicions surrounding this, so much speculation. It looks like America will have to wait to hear from Bergdahl himself. I can only report what I heard and saw with my own eyes and ears,” he said.
CNN has spoken to several military officials who said they have no information to confirm that when he disappeared he was seeking out the Taliban.
But Buetow added, “Every single thing we have said, was already known by the military. … We informed them of everything as the whole situation was evolving.”
An Army fact-finding investigation conducted in the months after Bergdahl's 2009 disappearance concluded that he left his outpost deliberately and on his own free will, according to a U.S. military official briefed on the report. The official spoke to CNN on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The Army will conduct "a comprehensive, coordinated" review of the case, the military said this week.
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The Lead with Jake Tapper draws not only on Tapper’s deep knowledge of politics and national issues, but also seeks to examine and advance stories across a wide range of topics that demonstrate his own curiosities and interests. Compelling headlines come from around the country and the globe, from politics to money, sports to popular culture, based on news drivers of the day.
The Lead with Jake Tapper airs weekdays at 4 p.m. ET.
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