Manhunt Continues for Navy Sailor in Afghanistan

As NATO forces comb a Taliban stronghold, reporters analyze the latest developments

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U.S. and Afghan troops are combing eastern Afghanistan for a missing Navy sailor reportedly captured by the Taliban. The sailor and a fellow serviceman appear to have ventured into Logar province, south of Kabul, and engaged in a shootout with the Taliban that left one of them dead. The military is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the sailor's whereabouts. According to CNN, the body of the killed sailor has been recovered by Afghan officials. It's not yet known why the two sailors ventured into the Taliban stronghold alone. Here's what reporters  and analysts are pulling together:

The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in a telephone interview that the two Americans had entered an area known as Dasht-i-Qala when the Taliban spotted them and tried to capture them alive. The area is in Charkh District, at the southern end of Logar Province, about 60 miles south of Kabul.

“They resisted, and one of them started shooting,” Mr. Mujahid said. “One soldier was trying to resist and the other one was willing to surrender.” Shots were exchanged for a while before one was killed and the other was captured, he said.

“They carried weapons, binoculars, and they were uniformed,” he said, and they were alone.

Now, Mr. Mujahid said, “the Taliban are waiting for the leadership to decide what to do” with the surviving serviceman and the body of his partner; he said both were in a safe location.
  • A Powerful Morale Booster for Taliban, write Maria Abi-Habib and Matthew Rosenberg at The Wall Street Journal: "The sailors' disappearance in an area only a few hours' drive from Kabul served as a stark reminder of just how powerful the Taliban remain in many parts of Afghanistan, despite the massive influx of U.S. troops in recent months. While the capture would have little battlefield impact, it would offer the Taliban a powerful propaganda tool with which to rally its faithful and reinforce its claim to be wearing down North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces fighting here."
  • Reveals Fissures in Taliban Power Structure, writes Laura King at the Los Angeles Times:

Illustrating the sometimes splintered nature of the insurgency, there appeared to be initial confusion within the Taliban about which of its factions was involved in the confrontation. Although there is an overall Taliban command structure, local cells of insurgents — sometimes intermingled with criminal gangs — operate semiautonomously in some parts of the country.

First word of the insurgents' encounter with the Americans did not come directly from the Taliban's usual spokesmen, but was relayed by Afghan authorities, who cited local intermediaries.
  • Principal Fear Is That Taliban Could Transport Sailor Into Pakistan, explains CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr:

The American government has long had a policy of refusing to pay a ransom for a kidnapped employee. Nor was it clear that the Taliban were asking for one. The only reports so far were that they were interested in a prisoner swap.

But the military has offered rewards in several previous cases, usually immediately after service members disappear, before their kidnappers have a chance to spirit them to a more distant and secure location.

The distinction between a ransom and a reward appeared to be somewhat gray, although in Afghanistan, where people can earn tens of thousands of dollars in the poppy business or in transporting heroin, it seemed unlikely that $20,000 would be of much interest to the kidnappers; the reward seemed to be aimed more at bystanders who might have seen or heard something that could inform the military’s search.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.