Massive search as US troops go missing in Afghanistan

Two US Navy service members disappeared in a dangerous area of eastern Afghanistan, prompting a massive search and appeals for their safe return, Nato and Afghan officials said today.

The two left their compound in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in a vehicle on Friday afternoon but never returned, Nato said in a statement.

Vehicles and helicopters were dispatched to search for the two, who may have been killed or captured by the Taliban in the Charkh district of southern Logar province – about a two-hour drive south of Kabul, said district chief Samer Gul.

A Nato official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the two were Navy personnel, but would not identify their unit to avoid jeopardising search operations. The official said it was unclear what the two were doing or what would lead them to leave their compound. The official would not say whether the two were on official business.

The Taliban have not contacted the coalition force to claim responsibility or make any demands for their release, the official said.

Mr Gul, the district chief in Charkh, said that a four-wheel drive armoured car was seen on Friday night by a guard working for the district chief’s office. The guard tried to flag down the vehicle, carrying a driver and a passenger, but it kept going, Mr Gul said.

“They stopped in the main bazaar of Charkh district. The Taliban saw them in the bazaar,” Mr Gul said. “They didn’t touch them in the bazaar, but notified other Taliban that a four-wheel vehicle was coming their way.”

The second group of Taliban tried to stop the vehicle, but when it did not, insurgents opened fire and the occupants in the vehicle shot back, he said.

Nato said a search is under way for the missing service members. According to Mr Gul, one may have been killed and the other taken hostage by the Taliban.

“Maybe they wanted to go to Paktia province or to the American base, but they came down the wrong road toward Charkh,” Mr Gul said. “They didn’t pay any attention to the police. Otherwise we could have kept them from going into an insecure area and now this unfortunate incident has happened.”

The only US service member known to be in Taliban captivity is soldier Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who disappeared June 30, 2009 in neighbouring Paktika province, an area heavily infiltrated by the Haqqani network, which has deep links to al Qaida. He has since appeared on videos posted on Taliban websites confirming his captivity.

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