Soldier captured in Afghanistan may have left base alone

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. soldier who inexplicably walked off his barren military base earlier this week was captured by Taliban militants hours later, U.S. military officials said Thursday, in what is believed to be the first time insurgents here have captured a U.S. serviceman in the eight-year war.

The private first class, who was based in Paktika province in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, didn't show up for formation on Tuesday. When fellow soldiers went to his quarters, they found his weapon, but his journal was missing, officials in Kabul told McClatchy. Hours later, U.S. military officials received a phone call saying that the soldier had been kidnapped outside of the base, a senior military official told McClatchy. It's not clear whether any demands were made.

Soldiers at the base believe he may have walked off base, though a senior military officer told McClatchy no one saw him leave. Officials said they could think of no reason a soldier based in eastern Afghanistan would leave his base alone, especially with no one's knowing in advance. Troops generally leave the base in groups and with the knowledge of their commanders.

“We're incredulous,” a senior military officer said.

According to the AFP news agency, a commander from the Taliban network led by Afghan warlord Jalalludin Haqqani told a reporter that they had captured a U.S. serviceman in Paktika.

"One of our commanders named Mawlawi Sangin has captured a coalition soldier along with his three Afghan guards in Yousuf Khail district of Paktika province," the AFP quoted a commander identified a Bahram.

"The coalition soldier has been taken to a safe place," Bahram is quoted as saying. "Our leaders have not decided on the fate of this soldier. They will decide on his fate and soon we will present video tapes of the coalition soldier and our demand to media," he said.

Officials said they delayed announcing the soldier's capture in the hopes they would find him during a massive military search of the area. His family has been notified but the military did not release his name, which base he was stationed at or how long he has served in the Army. Officials told McClatchy they are not sure whether he was wearing his uniform when he left the base.

"We are exhausting all available resources to ascertain his whereabouts and provide for his safe return," the military said in a statement.

The search will test the military’s intelligence resources in the region. While U.S. troops have only recently increased their presence in southern Afghanistan, where the Marines launched a major operation earlier this week, they've been based in eastern Afghanistan since 2001.