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Bowe Bergdahl pleads guilty to desertion and endangering troops

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he endangered comrades by walking away from a remote post in Afghanistan in 2009. The 31-year-old Bergdahl entered the plea without a deal with prosecutors to limit his punishment.

Bergdahl disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in June 2009 and was held in captivity by the Taliban until May 2014.

"I left my observation post on my own," Bergdahl told a judge Monday.

"I understand that leaving was against the law," said Bergdahl, whose decision to walk off his remote post in Afghanistan prompted intense search and recovery missions, during which some of his comrades were seriously wounded and other soldiers died.

Sergeant Bergdahl has previously said that he had intended to walk from his unit’s outpost to a larger base about 18 miles away, in order to report what he felt were leadership problems in his unit. He said he wanted to cause a major stir, to ensure that he received an audience with a high-ranking officer.

But he told Judge Nance on Monday that he never meant to set off the huge manhunt that followed his disappearance.

“At the time, I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations,” said Sergeant Bergdahl, who was a private first class when he disappeared. “I didn’t think they would have any reason to search for one private.”

It will now be up to an Army judge here at Fort Bragg to decide the sergeant’s punishment, following testimony at a hearing that is expected to begin as soon as next week. The desertion charge carries a potential five-year sentence, and the charge of endangering troops — formally known as misbehavior before the enemy — carries a potential life sentence.

During an interview on NPR’s “Serial” podcast, Bowe Bergdahl claimed he deserted his unit in Afghanistan to "highlight poor leadership” and save it.

“Doing what I did is me saying that I am like, I don’t know, Jason Bourne. I had this fantastic idea that I was going to prove to the world that I was the real thing.

“You know, that I could be what it is that all those guys out there that go to the movies and watch those movies, they all want to be that, but I wanted to prove that I was that.

“And what I was seeing, from my first unit all the way up into Afghanistan, all I was seeing was, basically, leadership failure, to the point that the lives of the guys standing next to me were, literally, from what I could see, in danger of something seriously going wrong and somebody being killed,” Bergdahl said.

Bergdahl said his plan was to “create a DUSTWUN – a radio signal that stands for ‘Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown’ – to highlight poor leadership within his unit.” After realizing his was “in over his head,” Bergdahl claims he started collecting “intelligence and look for the Taliban before turning himself in as a way of limiting the amount of trouble he faced.”

Six soldiers died on missions trying to locate or rescue Bergdahl: Private First Class Morris Walker, Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen, Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss, Second Lieutenant Darryn Andrews, Private First Class Matthew Martinek, and Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey.

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