Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was scheduled to arrive Friday at an Army hospital in San Antonio, Texas, after spending almost two weeks in Germany for treatment after his five years in captivity by the Taliban.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said travel arrangements had been made for Bergdahl, whose June 1 release has sparked controversy because he was freed in a trade for five Afghanistan Taliban militants held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“I can confirm that he is now en route to the United States aboard a U.S. military aircraft, having departed Ramstein Air Base (in Germany) earlier this afternoon,” Kirby said in a statement. “He will arrive in San Antonio early tomorrow morning, where he will continue the reintegration process at Brooke Army Medical Center.”
News of the pending transfer of Bergdahl, 28, from the military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to Texas came a day after a testy exchange about his status at a congressional hearing.
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Appearing Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was pressed on why Bergdahl was staying so long at the Army hospital in Germany.
Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said other seriously wounded American soldiers are flown to the United States almost immediately after they are hurt.
“You’re trying to tell me that he’s being held at Landstuhl, Germany, because of his medical condition?” Miller asked Hagel about Bergdahl.
The Pentagon chief responded: “Congressman, I hope you’re not implying anything other than that.”
After some more tense back-and-forth between the two men, Hagel said, “He’s being held there because our medical professionals don’t believe he’s ready to take the next step in his rehabilitation.”
Kirby said Thursday that Bergdahl’s recovery from his five-year ordeal at the hands of the Taliban will continue at the Army hospital in San Antonio.
“As Secretary Hagel has made clear, our first priority is making sure that Sgt. Bergdahl continues to get the care and support he needs,” Kirby said.
The Bergdahl swap has also prompted debate over the circumstances of his initial capture by the Taliban, with former platoon mates of the Idahoan claiming he went AWOL on June 30, 2009, from his Army base in eastern Afghanistan.
Lawmakers have accused President Barack Obama of violating a law requiring that Congress receive 30 days’ notice of any detainees released from Guantanamo.
Hagel told the Armed Services Committee that Obama’s constitutional powers as commander-in-chief trumped that legal requirement, saying the swap of war prisoners had to be completed quickly in order to save Bergdahl’s life.
The Qatari government brokered the deal. The five Taliban, who include the former Afghanistan regime’s deputy defense and intelligence ministers, must remain in Qatar for at least a year under the accord.