Robert Bergdahl, the father of Army sergeant and former Taliban captive, Bowe Bergdahl, reportedly learned Pashto in order to better understand his son’s captors and conditions. But his interest in the language and culture of the people holding his son took shape on social media as well, where Bergdahl interacted with members of the Afghan Taliban, and various other radical Islamists.
Bergdahl’s feed is a mix of anti-war politics, quotations on the nature of conflict, and news updates from Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s the feed of someone with broad-ranging intellectual curiosity — he’s a reader of advanced strategic and military texts, for instance.
But there’s another side to Bergdahl’s web presence. Here he is tweeting a Taliban press release:
… and tweeting Koranic verses at another Taliban member:
And he’s advocated for the release of Moazzam Begg, a former Guantanamo detainee who is facing criminal charges for aiding jihadists in Syria:
Bergdahl follows a number of foreign fighters in Syria, including members of the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIS), an organisation so extreme that it was expelled from Al Qaeda’s global network. His latest follow is Abu Bakr al Kashmiri, who one expert in Jihadist social media identified as a foreign fighter for ISIS.
This doesn’t mean that Bergdahl is himself an Islamist, or, for that matter, an Islamist sympathizer. Bergdahl apparently wanted to understand the cultural and political background of the people who were holding his son captive. On Twitter, this seemed to verge on amplification of Jihadist ideology and talking points — Bergdahl even retweeted the spokesperson of the organisation that was imprisoning his son:
At the same time, the feed reflects the intense emotional and psychological ordeal that Bowe’s captivity was for his family and loved ones.
In a press conference on Sunday, Robert Bergdahl teared up as he spoke directly to his son, who is recovering at a military hospital in Germany: “Most of all, I’m proud of how much you wanted to help the Afghan people and what you were willing to do to go to that length,” he said, adding: “you’ll never know how complicated this was.” Robert Bergdahl’s Twitter feed, in which he seemed to delve into and at times even mirror the mindset of the people who held his son captive for half a decade, could serve as proof.
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