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Western forces searching for 2 missing NATO troops in Afghanistan

The two disappeared during a resupply mission in western Afghanistan, officials say.

November 07, 2009|Alexandra Zavis and Karim Sharifi | Sharifi is a special correspondent.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — More than 25 members of international and Afghan security forces were injured Friday in firefights in northwestern Afghanistan during a large-scale manhunt for two missing American soldiers, military officials said.

The two paratroopers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, disappeared Wednesday during a routine resupply mission, the military said in a statement.

The military provided no further details on the disappearances, and neither NATO forces nor Afghan officials immediately explained how the clashes broke out, nor did they provide a breakdown of the casualties.

U.S. Army Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman, said only that the injuries had occurred in "direct engagements with enemy forces in the area."

Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman reached by telephone, said the militants ambushed the joint force in the district where the soldiers disappeared and fighting continued throughout the day. Ahmadi said three Taliban insurgents were killed in the clashes.

Such disappearances are rare. The last time an American service member went missing in Afghanistan was in June, when Pfc. Bowe R. Bergdahl was captured after straying from a U.S. base near the eastern border with Pakistan. On July 18, Taliban insurgents released a video of the 23-year-old soldier from Idaho. Bergdahl has not been found.

Afghan officials indicated it was unlikely that the two other missing Americans had been captured.

The western regional police chief, Ikramuddin Yawar, said a North Atlantic Treaty Organization helicopter had been dropping food supplies in the Bala Murghab district of Badghis province, and some of the boxes ended up in a river. He said the two soldiers were swept away by strong currents when they tried to retrieve the food.

U.S. and NATO military officials would not verify the account while the search was underway.

"We are doing everything we can to find them," said Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the coalition. "The families of these service members have been notified about their loved ones' status, and we will continue to keep them informed as information becomes available."

The 82nd Airborne Division is based at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina.

Also Friday, the NATO force announced the deaths of three service members Thursday in two bombings in southern Afghanistan. The dead included two Americans, the military said.

Last month was the deadliest of the eight-year war for U.S. forces, with 59 service members killed. Since the start of the war in 2001, 916 U.S. troops have died, according to icasualties.org.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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