Taliban insurgents have kidnapped four staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) southwest of the Afghan capital Kabul, but will release them soon, a Taliban spokesman said on Thursday.
The Taliban have kidnapped dozens of Afghans and foreigners in recent months as part of their campaign to create an atmosphere of insecurity and undermine the government and its Western backers.
Separately, Reuters reported that U.S. troops had fired on civilians near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on Thursday after a failed suicide car bomb attack on their convoy.
A witness told the news agency that three suicide bombers in one vehicle attacked a convoy of U.S. troops in the village of Bati Kot, 9 miles east of Jalalabad, but none of the soldiers was hurt.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Jalalabad denied that soldiers had fired at civilians. Instead, they had shot away when an out-of-control truck looked like it was going to crash into a crowd of onlookers, Maj. Nicholas Sternberg told MSNBC.com.
Sternberg also said that the initial attack had not been aimed at a U.S. patrol, as Reuters reported, and that four bombers and one civilian had died in the explosion.
Afghans staged angry protests in Jalalabad in March after U.S. Marines killed at least 10 civilians there following a suicide bomb attack.
ICRC KidnappingsThe Taliban admitted it seized two Afghan and two foreign ICRC staff members, but said it was unaware of their identity at the time.
"Our mujahideen detained the Red Cross workers in Wardak province without knowing they were ICRC staff," said a Taliban spokesman who declined to be named. "We have nothing against the Red Cross and we are going to release them soon."
A spokeswoman for the ICRC in Kabul said four staff had traveled to Wardak, southwest of Kabul, on Wednesday, but had not returned.
"The information I have is that four of our colleagues, two expatriates and two Afghan nationals, were coming back from Wardak to Kabul yesterday but they couldn't make it," said the spokeswoman, who declined to be named.
"We have lost contact with our staff since yesterday, there might have been complications on the way," she said.
In Geneva, spokesman Marcal Izard said that the humanitarian agency was "very concerned" and was trying to find out more.
Asked whether the ICRC suspected the four had been kidnapped, he told Reuters Television: "We cannot confirm at the moment what has really happened. We have to find out more details before we can comment further on that."
Taliban rebels kidnapped two German engineers in Wardak in July and killed one of them after he suffered a heart attack. The other German is still being held.
In August the ICRC helped facilitate talks between the Taliban and South Korean officials that led to the release of 21 Korean hostages after more than a month of captivity. Two other Koreans were killed.
The Swiss-based neutral organization deploys 60 expatriates and some 1,300 Afghan nationals in Afghanistan, one of its biggest operations worldwide.
Its officials visit several thousand detainees in Afghanistan each year to ensure that they are being treated humanely in accordance with international law.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.