KABUL, Afghanistan – Two kidnapped Italian military personnel were rescued in a NATO-led combat operation early Monday in western Afghanistan, two days after they went missing, an official said. Early reports indicated that at least five of the kidnappers had been killed.
Both Italians were wounded during the operation, one seriously. The two were being treated in a hospital run by NATO's International Security Assistance Force.
"They were freed in an ISAF operation. They were both injured. One is in a more difficult situation than the other," an Italian Embassy official said on condition of anonymity because of embassy policy. "They are free now. They are at a military hospital in the western region."
An Afghan translator and driver who were with the Italians were "found," the official said, adding that he did not know what condition they were in.
NATO troops located the two Italians and attacked the group of kidnappers. Preliminary reports found that five of the kidnappers were killed, though the toll may be higher, the official said.
The two Italians, their driver and translator had been missing since Saturday when they were last seen at a police checkpoint in the Shindand district of Helmand province, Afghan police said.
The Italians' last contact with their base was Saturday night, the embassy official said.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press on Monday that the Taliban had not kidnapped the Italians. The embassy official said it wasn't clear which insurgent group had kidnapped the Italians.
In March, five Taliban prisoners were freed in exchange for the release of a kidnapped Italian journalist. The head of the Italian aid agency Emergency has said the Rome government also paid a $2 million ransom last year for a kidnapped Italian photographer — a claim Italian officials did not deny.
In remote northeastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying police and government employees, killing 12, police said Monday.
The attack Sunday left seven policemen and five government employees dead, and one policeman wounded. They were traveling from northeastern Badakhshan province to Kabul, said Badakhshan police chief Gen. Agha Noor Kemtuz.
The police were being transferred to new posts and so were not armed, he said.
Elsewhere in northeastern Afghanistan, NATO helicopters fired on a group of suspected insurgents in response to a rocket attack Saturday. Four Afghans died and 12 were wounded, the alliance said, and officials were investigating whether the dead and wounded were Afghan police or civilians targeted mistakenly.
The NATO strike was in response to a rocket attack at an Afghan army base in the area.
Initial reports indicated they were Afghan police and road construction security guards "dressed in civilian attire and carrying weapons on an uncoordinated patrol," NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
Afghan army commander Gen. Qadam Shah said the 12 wounded were civilians but the identity of those killed was not clear from preliminary reports.
NATO also said a soldier was killed by gunfire in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday. The soldier's nationality was not released, though most troops in that region are American.
At the United Nations on Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Iranian foreign minister and top officials from other nations overseeing a five-year plan that sets benchmarks for Afghanistan on security, economic development and the drug trade.
More than 4,400 people — mostly militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.
At least 600 civilians have died in the fighting, many of them mistakenly hit in airstrikes by Western forces.
In southern Zabul province, meanwhile, the Taliban kidnapped three Afghan men accused of spying for the U.S. and executed them, beheading one and shooting the other two, said Shamulzayi district chief Wazir Khan. Khan said the men were innocent.