Friends and family supporters are keeping a close eye on this weekend's election in Afghanistan—with particular hopes that while Afghans decide their country's fate there could be reasons for hope in the on-again, off-again negotiations to free Idaho native Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, America's only current prisoner of war held by the Taliban.
“If (Taliban members) are more willing to meet with representatives of a successor government than they have been with President Karzai’s government, that would make the situation much easier. But that’s up to them," said Barnett Rubin, director and senior fellow of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University.
And Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch told the Twin Falls-Times News, "I can understand why everyone up there is watching this and are speculating and concerned about what happens in the future.”
Eleven candidates are on the ballot to claim the current seat held by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and most poll-watchers are expecting a run-off race between the top two contenders. Many foreign policy analysts blame Karzai for foiling negotiations between the U.S. and Bergdahl’s Taliban captors.
A Lewiston soldier is scheduled for major surgery Friday, Jan. 24, when doctors are planning to place a plate on his head to replace a missing softball-size portion of his skull.
This morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that Staff Sgt. Cody Ensley, a Green Beret, suffered extensive injuries during a roadside bomb explosion in Afghanistan on Nov. 13, 2013. The blast killed one Green Beret and seriously injured three others, including Ensley.
Ensley received initial treatment in Germany before being transported to Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. He continues his rehabilitation in San Antonio, where a family spokesman said Ensley is slowly learning to speak and walk again.
The Tribune reports that Ensley's parents and girlfriend spend as much time as possible at Ensley's bedside and can use help in defraying some of their travel and living expenses. Special funds have been set up at the Banner Bank branches in Lewiston and Clarkston, Wash., to assist the family. Additionally, an online fund was set up at gofundme.com/codyensleyfund.
The family of Idaho native U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has confirmed that the U.S. military has received a new video of their son, distributed by his captors.
Bergdahl went missing in June 2009 and is believed to be held by the Taliban, presumably somewhere in Pakistan.
A U.S. military official told CNN this morning that the new video shows Bergdahl "in diminished health from the effects of close to five years in captivity."
The new video reportedly has a reference to Dec. 14, 2013.
"Naturally, this is very important to us and our resolve to continue our efforts to bring Bowe home as soon as possible," the Bergdahl family said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said the military couldn't discuss the details of any negotiations or rescue efforts.
"Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been gone far too long, and we continue to call for and work toward his safe and immediate release," the spokesman told CNN. "There should be no doubt that on a daily basis — using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools — we work to see Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely."
Bergdahl was 23 when he was captured after finishing a guard shift at a combat outpost .
A U.S. Air Force captain and former North Idaho track star was killed Dec. 27 in combat operations in Kabul, Afghanistan. Witnesses said he died when an improvised explosive device was detonated near his convoy.
Capt. David Lyon—who used to be known as David Lissy when he lived in Sandpoint—was a 28-year-old member of the 21st Logistics Readiness Squadron, based out of Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
According to the Bonner County Daily Bee, Lyon (aka Lissy) set shot put records in Sandpoint and at the Air Force Academy and was co-captain of the Air Force track and field team in 2008. His wife, Dana, was a two-time javelin champion.
According to the Associated Press, Lyon's convoy was traveling approximately one-half mile from a NATO base in Kabul when the attack occurred. The Taliban has already claimed that it was behind the bombing that killed two others and injured six.
Lyon was nearing the end of a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan. He was due back home in about six weeks.
A new effort to keep Idaho native Bowe Berghdahl fresh in the minds of U.S. government officials, in a renewed push to secure the freedom of the Army Sergeant who has been the captive of the Taliban for more than four years.
This morning's Idaho Mountain Express reports that Hailey residents Debbie and Stefanie O'Neill have launched a social media campaign to send 1 million Christmas cards to Bergdahl by way of the White House.
"We're hoping that the Obama administration will have the good sense to not only hear our message but to facilitate a way to get these cards to Bowe through the International Red Cross or other agencies," said Stefanie O'Neill in a prepared statement.
As of Nov. 21, the effort had secured 3,960 Facebook "friends," each committing to send cards to Bergdahl.
O'Neill told the Mountain Express that she estimates that as many as 100,000 cards could be on their way to the White House by Thanksgiving.
Boise's Arthur Jackson celebrated his 89th birthday Oct. 18, but an extra honor came this morning as he was immortalized by the U.S. Postal Service on a World War II Medal of Honor Forever stamp. The dedication took place at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Beginning today, customers may purchase the Medal of Honor World War II Memorial Forever stamps at usps.com/stamps.
While a Private First Class with the U.S. marine Corps in action against enemy Japanese forces on the Island of Peleliu in September, 1944, Jackson "courageously defied the heavy barrages, charged a large pillbox housing approximately 35 enemy soldiers," according to the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor Society. "Determined to crush the entire pocket of resistance although harassed on all sides by the shattering blasts of Japanese weapons and covered only by small rifle parties, he stored one gun position after another."
Ultimately, Jackson was credited with contributing "essentially to the complete annihilation of the enemy in the southern sector of the island. His gallant initiative and heroic conduct in the face of extreme peril reflect the highest credit upon Pfc. Jackson,"
More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II; 464 were singled out to receive the Medal of Honor. Of that number, nearly half died as a result of their heroic actions and received the honor posthumously. 12 recipients were alive when the Postal Service approached them to have their photographs included. Today, only 8 remain, including Jackson.
A state-funded study is moving forward which could pave the way toward a new state veterans home built in Idaho's panhandle.
This morning's Coeur d'Alene Press reports that a request for proposals has been launched, funded by $250,000 granted by the Idaho legislature. If all goes as planned, the study should be completed by April 2014 and then submitted to the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C. The plan is to have an 88-bed veterans home built in or near Post Falls.
Veterans officials say they are an estimated 18,000 vets in Kootenai County alone, with the nearest vet home in Lewiston and others in Boise and Pocatello.
It's estimated that a land purchase and construction for a new home in Post Falls could cost as much as $20 million.
Much has been written about Hailey native Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl this week, in the shadow of the announcement from the Taliban that it would be willing to swap the Idaho soldier—coming up on his fourth anniversary in captivity—with five prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.
But little has been printed in Idaho about the five prisoners who might be the key to whether Bergdahl returns home sooner than later; but the detainees are considered to be among the most senior Taliban militants behind bars.
According to this morning's New York Times, two were senior Taliban commanders implicated in the murder of thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan. According to an interrogator, the two "did not express any regret and stated they did what they needed to do." A third is a former deputy director of Taliban intelligence. A fourth is a former senior Taliban official with "strong operational ties" to various extremist militias. The fifth is a former Taliban minister accused of having sought help from Iran in attacking American forces, according to the Times.
The Times reports that "any prisoner release ... is not imminent. The transfer restrictions require 30 days' notice to lawmakers before any detainee leaves, and the administration has not yet given any notification."
The five are among 18 Afghans remaining at Guantanamo—out of 220 taken there during the Bush administration. According to the Times, the other 13 are accused of far less serious and specific actions, meaning that they are "not important enough to be bargaining chips."
Meanwhile, this morning's Idaho Mountain Express reports that Bergdahl's parents are scheduled to make a rare public appearance to speak at a rally Saturday, June 22 in Hailey. The event, called "Bring Bowe Home," will take place at Hop Porter Park from 1-5 p.m.
"The Bergdahl family is very encouraged by this development [the proposed prisoner exchange]," Idaho National Guard Colonel Tim Marson told the Mountain Express.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Doha, Qatar where he is expected to talk with Taliban emmissaries regarding the fate of Hailey-native Army Segeant Bowe Bergdahl, who is approaching the fourth anniversary of his capture by the Taliban.
The Associated Press reports that a Taliban representative would not elaborate on Bergdahl's current whereabouts, but indicated that the Taliban may be interested in handing over Bergdahl in exchange for the release of five senior Taliban operatives being held at Guantanamo Bay.
"He is, as far as I know, in good condition," Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail told the AP, referring to 27-year-old Bergdahl, who went missing June 30, 2009. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."
Bergdahl's parents said earlier this month that they had received a letter from their son through the International Committee of the Red Cross. A family spokesman said the letter was scripted and redacted but that Bergdahl "was no-doubt alive and his faculties fully functioning as of two months ago."
The father of Hailey-native Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who has been missing since his 2009 capture by the Taliban in Afghanistan, says he has received a letter from his son, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
KTVB-TV reports that Bob Bergdahl said the letter was "scripted and redacted" but that his son "was no-doubt alive and his faculties fully functioning as of two months ago."
A family friend, Dwight Murphy of Boise Valley POW/MIA, told KTVB that he was given the all-clear by Bob Bergdahl to go public with the news of the letter.
"Bob wouldn't be sending this out to me and letting me know that Bowe wrote if he didn't know for sure," Murphy told KTVB. "It is definitely from Bowe."
Meanwhile, a series of events are scheduled for Saturday, June 22, in Hailey, as part of Bring Bowe Back Day, the fourth anniversary of the soldier's capture.