Search for sailors intensifies as Tal­iban say they killed one

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Deb Riechmann and Rahim Faiez

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Tal­iban claimed Sun­day that they killed a U.S. sailor and kid­napped an­other as NATO forces bol­stered a mas­sive search for the ser­vice­men, who dis­ap­peared two days ear­lier in an area held by the mil­i­tants.

The coali­tion force set up check­points and dis­trib­uted fliers with the sailors’ pic­tures and is of­fer­ing thou­sands of dol­lars in re­wards for their re­turn.

There were con­flict­ing re­ports about whether the body of one of the two had been re­cov­ered.

U.S. and NATO of­fi­cials con­firmed that two mem­bers of the U.S. Navy dis­ap­peared Fri­day in the east­ern prov­ince of Logar af­ter an ar­mored sport util­ity ve­hi­cle was seen driv­ing into a Tal­iban-held area. NATO of­fi­cials were un­able to say what they were do­ing in such a dan­ger­ous part of east­ern Afghanistan.

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid also said the pair drove into an area un­der in­sur­gent con­trol, prompt­ing a brief gun­fight in which one Amer­i­can was killed and the other was cap­tured. He said both were taken to a “safe area” and “are in the hands of the Tal­iban.”

The sailors’ heav­ily re­in­forced white Land Cruiser has been re­cov­ered, ac­cord­ing to a se­cu­rity of­fi­cial in Logar who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to dis­close the in­for­ma­tion.

An­other lo­cal of­fi­cial, Ab­dul Wali, the deputy head of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ing coun­cil, said the Tal­iban sent a mes­sage through in­ter­me­di­aries of­fer­ing to hand over the body of one sailor in ex­change for jailed in­sur­gents.

He said lo­cal au­thor­i­ties told the Tal­iban, “‘Let’s talk about the one that is still alive.’”

He said the in­sur­gents in­di­cated they would have to talk to su­pe­ri­ors be­fore mak­ing any deal.

Hun­dreds of fliers with reprinted pho­tos of the missing sailors have been dis­trib­uted through­out Logar prov­ince, where NATO troops were stop­ping mo­torists, frisk­ing peo­ple, peer­ing in­side ve­hi­cles and search­ing trunks.

“Our lat­est, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion re­ports are that they are still in the area,” said Din Mo­hammed Dar­wesh, spokesman for the pro­vin­cial gover­nor of Logar.

He said the gover­nor’s of­fice was up­set be­cause the two Amer­i­cans left their base with­out no­ti­fy­ing Afghan se­cu­rity forces in Logar, which is the nor­mal pro­to­col.

“This was an ab­nor­mal sit­u­a­tion,” Dar­wesh said.

The vis­it­ing chair­man of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told re­porters Sun­day that though he did not have all the de­tails about the missing ser­vice­men, “from what I know right now, this is an un­usual cir­cum­stance.”

Mullen said he could not com­ment on the Tal­iban claim that one Amer­i­can was killed and the other cap­tured. He said the U.S. was do­ing all it could to “re­turn to Amer­i­can hands any­body who has been cap­tured or killed.”

“There’s a tremen­dous amount of ef­fort go­ing on to find them.”

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