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Questions linger after second sailor’s body found

Officials look into why men left their base

By Deb Riechmann
Associated Press / July 30, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The discovery of the body of a second US sailor who vanished in Afghanistan last week only deepened the mystery of the men’s disappearance nearly 60 miles from their base in a dangerous area controlled by the Taliban.

An investigation is underway, but with both sailors dead, US authorities remained at a loss yesterday to explain what two junior enlisted men in noncombat jobs were doing driving alone in Logar Province, where much of the countryside is not under government control.

“This is like a puzzle,’’ said Abdul Wali, deputy head of the governing council in Logar.

Petty Officer Second Class Justin McNeley — father of two boys ages 5 and 9 — from Kingman, Ariz., and Petty Officer Third Class Jarod Newlove, 25, from the Seattle area, disappeared in the province July 23. McNeley’s body was recovered there Sunday, and Newlove’s body was pulled from a river Wednesday evening, Afghan officials said.

The US Navy confirmed Newlove’s death yesterday.

Officials at NATO-led coalition headquarters in Kabul have not offered an explanation as to why the two service members were driving a heavily armored vehicle so far from their base at Camp Julien, a training facility on the western edge of the city.

A NATO official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the case was being investigated, said it was unclear what the two were doing, or whether they were on official business.

Senior military officials in Washington said the sailors were never assigned anywhere near where their bodies were found.

The NATO official in Kabul dismissed speculation that the two had been abducted in Kabul and driven to Logar — the same province where New York Times reporter David Rohde was kidnapped in 2008 while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander. Rohde and an Afghan colleague escaped in June 2009 after seven months.

Samer Gul, chief of Logar’s Charkh district, said the two sailors, in an armored sport utility vehicle, were seen Friday by a guard working for the district chief’s office. The guard tried to flag down the vehicle, but it kept going, Gul said.

A group of Taliban tried to stop the vehicle, but when the SUV did not halt, the insurgents opened fire and the occupants in the vehicle shot back, he said. The NATO official confirmed that the vehicle had been shot up.

Gul said there is a well-paved road that leads into the Taliban area, and suggested the Americans may have mistaken that for the main highway.

Wali, the deputy head of the governing council in Logar, insisted the Taliban did not plan the clash. Initially, the insurgents didn’t know whether they should claim responsibility, he said.

Din Mohammed Darwesh, spokesman for the provincial governor of Logar, said the governor’s office was upset because the Americans left their base without notifying Afghan security forces in Logar, which is the protocol. He called their presence in Logar an “abnormal situation.’’

The international force quickly launched a massive search for the sailors, setting up checkpoints and distributing hundreds of fliers. The fliers offered a $20,000 reward for information about their whereabouts.

US officials did not provide details about how either sailor might have died. Darwesh, the provincial spokesman, said Newlove was shot once in the head and twice in the torso.

The Taliban did not claim responsibility for the missing sailors for more than 48 hours after the clash. A message posted on the Taliban website late Sunday claimed one American service member had been kidnapped in Logar and another was killed in a shoot-out.

Yesterday, Zabiullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman, said the group on Tuesday left the “body of a dead American soldier for the US forces’’ to recover.

Mohammad Rahim Amin, local government chief in Baraki Barak, said villagers in the district called to report the body of a foreigner, clad in a uniform, in the river.

He said coalition forces recovered it Wednesday.

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