KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – An Italian freelance photographer and his assistant were abducted in southern Afghanistan, an official said Sunday. Two Canadian troops were also killed in the south following a militant ambush.
Gabriele Torsello and his Afghan translator were abducted by armed men on Saturday as they were driving from Lashkar Gah, the capital of the southern Helmand province, toward neighboring Kandahar, an Afghan official in Helmand said.
The two were in their car when they were abducted, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Torsello earlier spent time in Musa Qala, another restless area in Helmand province, the official said.
Maj. Luke Knittig, a NATO spokesman in Kabul, said they were informed by another reporter that Torsello had not been in contact for the last three days and they were trying to locate him.
The missing reporter was not registered with the NATO media office and was not on an alliance-sponsored trip, Knittig said.
Maso Notarianni, the director of Italian online magazine Peace Reporter, told Italian state TV that Torsello had called a hospital in Lashkar Gah, apparently to let authorities know he was kidnapped.
"Until Thursday he was in the deep south of Afghanistan, in Taliban-controlled territory," Notarianni said.
The southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar have been the scene of the most intense fighting between Taliban and NATO troops this year, in the worst upsurge in violence in the country since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban regime from power.
The reporter's abduction comes a week after two German journalists working for that country's national broadcaster were killed in northern Afghanistan — the first foreign journalists murdered in the country since late 2001.
Militants using rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, meanwhile, ambushed a Canadian patrol in Kandahar province on Saturday, killing two Canadian soldiers, Canada's defense department said in a statement.
NATO said three soldiers were wounded in the Saturday battle, while Canada said two were wounded. The cause of the discrepancy was not immediately clear.
The soldiers were working on a road that would offer safer passage from the volatile Panjwayi district to Kandahar, the statement said.
Other Canadian units responded to the attack and became involved in a three-hour battle with insurgents, and NATO helicopters also were called in, the statement said.
Counting the latest fatalities, 42 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have been killed in Afghanistan since 2002.
On Sunday, a blast targeting Americans training Afghan police killed two civilians and wounded another in western Afghanistan, officials said.
The American trainers were not injured when a remotely controlled bomb targeted their vehicle in the western Herat province, said Noor Khan Nekzad, spokesman for the provincial police chief.
The two civilians killed were riding bicycles nearby at the time of the blast, Nekzad said.