The Taliban have offered to exchange the body of a US Navy member they said was killed in an ambush two days ago in exchange for insurgent prisoners, an Afghan official said today.
US and Nato officials confirmed that two American Navy personnel went missing on Friday in the eastern province of Logar, after an armoured sports utility vehicle was seen driving into a Taliban-held area.
Afghan officials believe one was killed and the other captured when they apparently took a wrong turn and ended up in a dangerous area of Logar.
Abdul Wali, the head of the provincial governing council, said local authorities responded to the Taliban offer by saying: "Let's talk about the one that is still alive".
The insurgents said they would have to talk to superiors before making any deal.
Local media in Logar reported the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on the two Americans. Officials told The Associated Press they have not been directly contacted by the insurgents.
The Taliban have an efficient public relations system and usually quickly call international and local media after attacks to claim responsibility. However, Taliban spokesmen have not responded to multiple calls from the AP seeking comment on the missing pair.
Friday's attack appeared to be spur of the moment, making it likely the militants are trying to decide how to spin the incident.
The two sailors 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 them, and Nato launched appeals on local radio stations offering rewards for information leading to the return of either one.
A Nato official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of search operations, 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.
Samer Gul, the chief of Logar's Charkh district, said a four-wheel drive armoured sports utility vehicle 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.
"Charkh district is very dangerous. No government officials or employees are willing to go to that area," said Mr Wali, the provincial council official.
He said there is a well-paved road that goes in the direction of Charkh and suggested the Americans may have mistaken that for the main highway - which is a much older and more dilapidated road.
The only US service member known to be in Taliban captivity is Spc 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.
New York Times reporter David Rohde was also kidnapped in Logar province while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander.
He and an Afghan colleague escaped in June 2009 after seven months in captivity, most of it spent in Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.