KABUL, (Reuters) – The Taliban said on Sunday they were holding prisoner one of two U.S. soldiers who strayed into territory controlled by the insurgents, and that the other had been killed.
The Taliban leadership would decide later on the fate of the captive, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.
The two U.S. servicemen were reported missing on Friday after failing to return in a vehicle they had taken from their compound in Kabul, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
“We have the body of the dead soldier and the other one who is alive. We have taken them to a safe place,” Mujahid said.
His account was disputed by a provincial official in Logar, a short but dangerous drive south of the capital, who said U.S. forces had recovered a body.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the soldier now captive was likely to have also been injured. They had ended up in a Taliban-held part of the province and liquor had been found in their vehicle, he said.
ISAF scrambled helicopters and planes to look for the pair after they went missing, but officials have declined to give anything but scant details since, prompting speculation that the two had been acting outside the chain of command.
ISAF’s 150,000 troops in Afghanistan rarely move outside their bases unless on heavily armed patrols or convoys on predetermined routes.
Leaflets depicting photos of the two soldiers were distributed in Logar on Sunday.
“Now this soldier needs the help of Afghanistan’s people and return him to his dear ones,” read one leaflet.
Announcements on local radio stations offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to a rescue.
The only other ISAF service member believed held by the Taliban is Idaho National Guardsman Bowe Bergdahl, whose capture in June last year triggered a massive manhunt. His captors have issued videos of him denouncing the war, in what the U.S. military has called illegal propaganda.
Last month was the deadliest of the nine-year war in Afghanistan for foreign troops, with more than 100 killed.