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2 missing U.S. troops may be in Taliban's hands

KABUL - A ground and air search is under way in Afghanistan for two U.S. Navy servicemen missing since Friday who may have been captured by the Taliban.

The two left their compound in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in a vehicle Friday afternoon but never returned, NATO said in a statement that didn't identify the men's nationality. The Associated Press reported they were U.S. Navy personnel, citing unnamed officials.

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

Akhtar Mohammed, a senior Taliban commander, claimed in a telephone interview the two were captured by the Taliban.

Elsewhere, five U.S. troops died in two separate bombings in the south Saturday, setting July on course to become the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year war for Americans. Four of the five died in a single blast.

The latest deaths brought to 75 the number of international troops killed in Afghanistan this month, including 56 Americans. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the war in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense said Friday. President Barack Obama has sent thousands of reinforcements to try to turn back the Taliban and vowed to start bringing U.S. troops home next year.

Gul, the district chief in Charkh, said a four-wheel-drive armored sport utility vehicle was seen 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, Gul said.

"They stopped in the main bazaar of Charkh district. The Taliban saw them in the bazaar," Gul said. "They didn't touch them in the bazaar, but notified other Taliban that a four-wheel vehicle was coming their way." A second group of Taliban tried to stop the vehicle, but when it didn't, insurgents opened fire and the occupants in the vehicle shot back, he said. One of the men may have been killed and the other taken hostage by the Taliban, Gul said.

The only U.S. service member known to be in Taliban captivity is Spc. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, who disappeared June 30, 2009, in neighboring 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 Rhode 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.


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