By Rebecca Shabad - 06/04/14 11:49 AM EDT
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that he didn’t know of any troops who had died in the search for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, amid a growing controversy over whether the former Taliban prisoner deserted his unit.
“I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. solders dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sgt. Bergdahl," Hagel said at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, where he met with NATO defense ministers, Reuters reported.
Some of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers have said in recent days that he deserted his unit in Afghanistan before he disappeared and soldiers died searching for him.
Hagel’s remarks come a day after the Army announced it would launch a high-level investigation into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance, but only after his medical condition improves.
Bergdahl is being evaluated and treated at the U.S. Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The hospital said earlier this week that doctors are paying close attention to his dietary and nutritional needs.
Hagel urged critics not to rush to judgment, saying they should wait for the facts.
“Until we get the facts, until we have ... a review of all the circumstances, it is not in the interest of anyone and certainly I think a bit unfair to Sgt. Bergdahl’s family and to him to presume anything," he said.
Hagel sidestepped a question about whether Bergdahl deserved to hold his rank of sergeant.
"It’s not my place as a former sergeant in the United States Army, which I am very proud of, to decide who is worthy of being a sergeant and who isn’t, and I think any further talk of that is irresponsible," he said.
"Let's get the facts, but let's first focus on getting Sgt. Bergdahl well, getting his health back, getting him reunified with his family," Hagel added.
Obama administration officials defended the decision to secure his release last Saturday without notifying Congress because they claimed his life was in danger and his health was deteriorating.