Serial: S02 Episode 02: The Golden Chicken
December 17, 2015 2:57 AM - Subscribe

On the move with Bergdahl, the Taliban slip past the U.S. Army's massive effort to find him. During those days and weeks, each side is asking, what is Bergdahl worth to us?
posted by Etrigan (18 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The mailkimp ad is back!
posted by dinty_moore at 7:42 AM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

“In all the desert joints in all the provinces in all of Afghanistan, he walked into theirs.”

First there was, "That's me, calling the Taliban," and now this.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:17 PM on December 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

There is a really great comment--a couple comments--on reddit here from a guy who was in Bergdahl's battalion when Bergdahl walked off...talking about what the response to the dustwun was like for the other soldiers, as well as more generally what conditions were like in the area at the time.

Don't know if swingsetmafia is a mefite also but thought I'd pass it along.
posted by torticat at 4:01 PM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

For all the people wondering what Serial could possibly bring to such a well-trodden story - how about an interview with the freakin' Taliban?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:20 PM on December 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

I really felt bad for the soldiers searching for Bergdahl. I am sure I would have been just as pissed.

The situation also illustrates how much of a disadvantage Western troops have out there. We have arguably the most advanced military in the world, but the Taliban has a hometown advantage for sure. It must have felt so hopeless for the people searching for him.
posted by radioamy at 9:52 PM on December 17, 2015

I'm British and had never heard of Bergdahl before this, so all of this is new to me.

What boggles my mind most is the whole "Oh, guess what, turns out the Western military were at a real disadvantage because they didn't understand the complex minutiae of this country, who knew?!"

I mean, thousands - millions - of critics of the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of whom were not expert military strategists, could see this fact screaming them in the face before we went in, so why - how - could this be a surprise to the military themselves? Did they really think Afghanistan was just like the US but with different hats and they'd soon get the hang of it?
posted by penguin pie at 1:38 AM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also - yay Mailkimp!
posted by penguin pie at 1:38 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Serial chat on the Washington Post today. I'm repasting what I deemed the most crucial bits so you don't have to waste a click.
"Sarah "calls" the Taliban to talk about Bowe and get their side of the story. Is that common/typical? Can people just call the Taliban?

A: Dan Lamothe
Ah -- I thought this was an interesting wrinkled to the second episode. It's actually not as uncommon as you might think, though. The Taliban has a pretty robust web presence, sends out press releases and is regularly quoted by foreign correspondents covering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The caveat, of course: They frequently don't have their facts right, and are pushing a pretty strong agenda. For example, it's common that when an armored military vehicle hits a Taliban-emplaced IED, they call it a "tank" in tweets. There's obviously a big difference between a four-wheel Humvee or MRAP and a tank rolling on tracks with a big heavy main gun.

In episode 1, they noted that in a few days the base would be transitioned over to the Afghans. Why didn't Bowe just wait? Wouldn't they all have moved to another base? Maybe he would have had an opportunity to talk at the new location?

A: Dan Lamothe
This is an excellent question -- a $1 million one, really. It has baffled and infuriated many of the fellow soldiers who had to search for Bergdahl afterward.
Bergdahl absolutely would have had the opportunity to talk to others at the larger base mentioned, Forward Operating Base (FOB) Sharana. It was a pretty big hub, with a brigade commander (a colonel, just below a general in the rank structure) and other senior officers there.
The rub, though, is that Bergdahl's mention condition at the time of his disappearance is in question. His lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said in the hearing in September that a panel of mental health professional found that he was suffering from a mental defect at the time he walked away. How this is viewed in court will likely be key going forward.

there are several discrepancies in Bowe's story versus the Taliban story (being taken in a tent versus being taken out in the open). What do the official records say?

A: Dan Lamothe
Here's what we have right now: Two days of testimony in September from officers involved in the search for Bergdahl and his subsequent investigation.
Here's what we don't have: Virtually every other document in this case. The Army hasn't released them, assumedly due to their sensitivity.
That makes it complicated to tell what happened, which a lot of journalists have alluded to, including Sarah Koenig for "Serial."

Based on what you know of the story, how accurate was the interview with the Taliban in the second episode of the podcast? Any changes in the story?

A: Dan Lamothe
OK, last question I can fit in today here. It's a good one: I hadn't previously heard the story about the Taliban dragging Bergdahl west to Ghazni province, rather than straight east to Pakistan. It would provide another good reason that U.S. troops struggled to find him.
With that said, I'm taking it with a grain of salt. It makes sense, but in that podcast other Taliban officials say repeatedly they thought Bergdahl was drunk (it doesn't sound like that was the case) and that they treated him reasonably well (by tying him to a motorcycle after capturing him?).
One of the big reveals on this will be when military documents -- now either classified or kept under lock and key -- are released later. For now, we just don't know. This is one of those stories where there are so many people with vested interests and so much fog of war, it's hard to get to the actual ground truth.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

What boggles my mind most is ...

I couldn't even begin to narrow down my own list of "what boggles me the most." There's just too much there.

Awesome episode. I'm going to be that guy who pesters everyone I know to listen.

I have two images that are now vivid in my mind: the soldier stuck on patrol with shit-stained pants for 19 days, and Pashtun women huddled in the corner during an inspection (raid? sweep? I don't even know what this shit is called) & a soldier having to go over and ask them to lift their veils.

I'm also struck by how much we are still learning from wiki leaks.
posted by kanewai at 11:32 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

One point that struck me as the crux of this episode: the Taliban estimating the value to them of keeping Bergdahl at maybe around 5000 men (of theirs), weighed against what human toll the U.S. command (and populace, as per the families and later the media questioning) was prepared to invest in getting him back. It's not a false equivalency to think about, and one of those things that the tone and pace of Serial creates a pretty unique space for.

Between series 1 and 2, it's almost as though SK's ultimate aim is a kind of national reconciliation, by way of intricate (yet approachable) soulsearching on some big fundamentals.

(And re "MAIL...CAIMP?": has the one true etymology of that not entered the canon by now - or is it just more enjoyable left as puzzling, as would seem by spelling it "-kimp"? Either way, yay! Wouldn't have felt true-to-form Serial without it...)
posted by progosk at 11:43 PM on December 18, 2015

I really noticed the cultural divide in this episode. Like, from the US side, we have all kinds of records and documents of which troops went where in the search, records of overheard radio chatter used for clues, etc. From the Taliban side, they seem to have none of that, so all we get are assorted memories that are each wildly different from the other. The frequent mentions that they thought he was "drunk" - it's like they don't even know what "drunk" means, which I suppose is understandable since (as I understand it) Islam forbids alcohol, and the Taliban follow the strictest possible form of it. (Although I wonder, since Afghanistan is said to be a major source of opium - are they growing it without ever sampling it?)

That they couldn't imagine the US would go to such lengths searching for Bergdahl if he wasn't a "big shot" - what does that say about the Taliban's attitude in the same position? If one of their random soldiers went missing would they just shrug and say "oh well, no use risking a search just for that dude"?

It's just really tragic hearing how this clash of two mutually uncomprehending cultures both caused and prevented resolving this situation.
posted by dnash at 8:39 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe it's just me but, that's... kind of an oblique way to thread the "clash of cultures" thing into this, no?

Surely, there's a huge power imbalance / cultural divide, but... is that what "caused" Bergdahl's leaving his post, or what "prevented resolving" his being held captive?
posted by progosk at 8:51 AM on December 19, 2015

I was reaching for some sort of summary phrase for my thoughts that maybe I didn't need? I meant something like, in the ways the guy in the episode spoke of that after however many years there we still had no good understanding of the place and the people, that is what got our military mired down in the morale-busting way that caused some soldiers like Bergdahl to break. And also made it harder for us to find him quickly and possibly end the situation before it got out of hand.
posted by dnash at 9:33 AM on December 19, 2015

Right, so as per penguin pie.

It's right there in the gall of calling it intel(ligence), when clearly what the Military is collecting is just information, and the precise thing it lacks is the cultural wherewithal to turn that info into actual intelligence. (Needless to say, if they had that, they wouldn't be there in the first place - agreed.)
posted by progosk at 10:52 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Although I wonder, since Afghanistan is said to be a major source of opium

If you're interested, here's the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2014 (pdf). Lots of data there on opium production and the methods used to track it.

Interestingly, opium production in Afghanistan was virtually nil (in world terms) just prior to the US invasion. As of 2001, it's arguable that the Taliban had almost wiped it out.

are they growing it without ever sampling it?

So, maybe not. The rise in opium production since 2011, as I understand it, was the return of control of areas in Afghanistan to warlords allied to the US and ISAF (as they were useful in fighting the Taliban) buuuut...then areas under their control reverted to large-scale opium production.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:38 PM on December 19, 2015

I'm finding it fascinating. I vaguely remembered the basics about the case but don't have a ton of knowledge about it. We are getting back story into the way the US military was operating in Afhganistan via a bunch of other soldiers and wikileaks. We already have unreliable narrators in Berghdal and the Taliban and the US military. We've got still pertinent geo-political details like the Pakistan border issue. There's fuzziness in staking out sides already, be it with Afghan kids or US soldiers. It's a story about Berghdal sure, but it's a story about a whole bunch of other stuff too.
posted by Cuke at 6:45 PM on December 20, 2015

It's still taking me a while to get into this. I think because Serial was so small-scale in the last season, with a limited number of players, it was easier for me to understand. Also, the "did he or didn't he?" question that carried most of the episodes (until we started to really dig into police practices and the justice system in general, and of course his lawyer's story) gave me a black and white question to focus on.

This big. I mean, I guess this long-form story can carry an event so huge in scope better, but somehow, it just gets more confusing because of the many, many, many viewpoints, and so far, I'm just a little muddled. I'm hoping it all snaps into clearer focus for me in the next few episodes, because I do love the show.
posted by xingcat at 8:17 AM on December 22, 2015

I like this season much more than last one. But I don't expect there will be a WOW whodoneit moment. It's more of a documentary and less a thrilling tale of mystery, and in general it will probably get panned by superfans of last season.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2015

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