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Taliban's video of captured soldier an effort to change image?

  • Story Highlights
  • Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl, 23, was captured June 30 from eastern Afghanistan
  • Video released by captors shows Bergdahl eating and talking about the war
  • Former FBI officials say this could be a political move by the Taliban
  • Former Gen. Wesley Clark says the Taliban has messed with the wrong people
By Ed Hornick
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States military has been relatively mum on the recent capture of Army Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl. So has his family in Idaho.

Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl shown here in a video made by his captors, members of the Taliban.

Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl shown here in a video made by his captors, members of the Taliban.

And with good reason.

"The family members just don't want to do or risk doing anything to inflame the situation," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling. "And you can see how easily that can happen ... We're going to respect that."

Femling told CNN on Tuesday that it's comforting to know right now that he's all right. "But other than that, the rest of that is ... difficult to watch."

Experts think his captors have a different purpose in releasing the video.

Tom Fuentes, a former FBI associate director of international operations and a CNN contributor, said the 28-minute Web video released by the Taliban showing Berghdal is an effective method of humanizing and tugging at the hearts of Americans -- and the U.S. government.

"Showing him in the video does make the soldier more valuable and makes the insurgents more difficult to deal with in trying to get him back," Fuentes said. "The face of an unknown soldier, like in the past, is one thing but when they put the person on TV it definitely adds to the pressure [on the government]." Video Watch the video »

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday his reaction was different.

"My personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young soldier," Gates said.

Bergdahl, 23, was captured three weeks ago in the Paktika province in southeastern Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

U.S. forces are doing everything possible to free Bergdahl, Gates said.

Chris Voss -- a former international kidnapping coordinator for the FBI -- says the video could be part of a bigger strategy.Video Watch U.S. efforts to find Bergdahl »

"The Taliban here is trying to legitimize themselves as a political entity by the way that they portrayed him in this video and the statements they have made about ... They are trying to position themselves as more than the insurgency ... more than a criminal gang."

Voss, who is now a managing director at Insite Security, adds that this is a well-orchestrated video aimed at showing they are not using violence against the soldier, but rather taking on a more humane approach. Video Watch an analyst weigh in on the capture »

But the video could also damage the Taliban's organization, Voss adds.

"The Taliban is taking a chance of exposing portions of their infrastructure that they would be using against the U.S. military anyway," Voss says. "This is not going to pull the military off its mission. It's just another way for them to accomplish it."

In the video released Sunday, Bergdahl becomes emotional when he speaks of his family and his current situation, saying he was "scared I won't be able to go home."

When asked if he had any message for Americans, Bergdahl says, "To my fellow Americans who have loved ones over here, who know what it's like to miss them, you have the power to make our government bring them home. Please, please bring us home so we can be back where we belong and not over here."

Connecting through propaganda?

Nonetheless, the probable goal by the Taliban is to open dialogue with the U.S. in ways other terrorist organizations have not, Voss says.

"They are trying to engage U.S. government to open dialogue ... the statements they had him make was clearly to try humanize him with his family and try to get public pressure on the U.S. government in regards to the decisions they're making in Afghanistan. So it's very calculated on their part."

Retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark says while the video is powerful, it is unlikely to change opinion at home.

"I don't think it's going to influence opinion here, nor is it going to in itself cause any diversion of [military] resources there," said Clark, the former NATO supreme commander during the Kosovo conflict.

"I think the Taliban strategy is going to fail. ... The people who took him are going to regret having done so," he adds.

Clark said the latest video goes against the Geneva Conventions' rules on prisoners of war.

"This is totally in contradiction to the Geneva Conventions that says that captured soldiers cannot be photographed and cannot have propaganda made of them."

CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen said Bergdahl has likely been moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan -- a pattern he has seen before.

"We've seen this pattern before with westerners being kidnapped in Afghanistan by lower-level Taliban then they're either sold or given further up the food chain of the Taliban leadership, which is all based in Pakistan," he told CNN's American Morning.

Three separate sources with access to the latest information say it's believed Bergdahl is in Afghanistan. "We are working on that assumption," one senior military official says.

Another senior military official says it is also believed that Bergdahl was likely captured by low-level militants and then quickly "sold" to the clan and network led by warlord Siraj Haqqani. The Haqqani clan operates on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border and is well-known to the U.S. military.

The Taliban has threatened to kill Bergdahl if foreign troops continue targeting civilians in the name of search operations in Ghazni and Paktika provinces, Taliban commander Mulvi Sangeen told CNN by telephone from an undisclosed location. The military, under the orders of President Obama, has stepped up its force in the war-torn country by adding thousands of new troops.

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While there is some concern that the military may be distracted by this latest capture, Voss says that military resources will only aid the overall mission.

"Locating this private is going to fall within their existing mission because the people who are holding him are clearly the elements of the Taliban they are engaged and the Taliban's criminal activity in the area."

CNN's Barbara Starr and journalist Janullah Hashimzada contributed to this report.

All About Afghanistan WarThe TalibanU.S. Armed Forces Activities

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