WASHINGTON – The body of a sailor who was killed in a Taliban ambush arrived home in the United States Tuesday as the military continued a massive search for his comrade, whom the Taliban claimed it kidnapped last week in eastern Afghanistan.
Officials Tuesday said that Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, 25, of Renton, Wash., is the missing sailor. His duty status is listed as whereabouts unknown. U.S. and Afghan forces are conducting a massive search throughout Afghanistan for Newlove, on the ground and by air.
The military is monitoring Afghanistan’s eastern border in an effort to keep Taliban fighters from moving Newlove to neighboring Pakistan, defense officials told McClatchy Newspapers, and in leaflets dropped throughout the area, the military says it’s offering a $20,000 reward for information about the missing sailor.
The sailors were in Afghanistan as auxiliary support staffers and were helping to train Afghan soldiers in counterinsurgency.
Newlove’s military records show that he’s been an active duty seaman for five years; the records list him as a “culinary specialist.” While Afghanistan is a landlocked country, the military has increasingly called on Navy and Air Force personnel to support the ground effort, and it appears that Newlove received some additional training.
There are about 6,500 Navy personnel serving in Afghanistan.
During a search patrol Sunday in the area where officials found the two sailors’ bullet-riddled SUV, troops found the body of Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley, 30, of Wheatridge, Colo., who was assigned to Assault Craft Unit One , San Diego. His remains arrived Tuesday morning at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Officials in Washington and Kabul said they still don’t know why Newlove and McNeley left their base in Kabul on Friday in an armored SUV and headed toward one of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions.
That evening, they were caught in an ambush in restive Logar province, 60 miles from the Afghan capital.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said that one sailor had been killed and the second had been captured during a firefight as the men drove through the village of Dasht in Charkh District.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the movements of the sailors an “unusual circumstance,” but he didn’t elaborate.
Newlove is the second U.S. service member whose whereabouts in Afghanistan are unknown. Spc. Bowe Bergdahl of Hailey, Idaho, disappeared on June 30, 2009, in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktika province. He was last seen in a Taliban video in December.