Almost two weeks after several U.S. Special Operations troops were wounded fighting Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan, the militant group's media arm has posted photos of American equipment, including weapons and a radio that, they say, were captured from U.S. soldiers fighting in the same region.
The assortment of weapons, equipment and documents raise more questions than answers, and while the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan has been reluctant to conflate the loss of material with the wounding of the U.S. soldiers in the country's restive Nangahar province, the type of gear and the timing of the pictures suggest that the two could be related.
Last month the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, told reporters that five U.S. Special Operations soldiers had been wounded alongside their Afghan counterparts during "clearing operations" against Islamic State militants in Nangahar. Over the course of a week, the soldiers received wounds from gunfire and shrapnel, he said.
On Saturday, the Islamic State's Amaq media agency posted pictures of the American equipment including the identification, or CAC card, of a U.S. soldier.
In an emailed statement, Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, the deputy chief of staff for the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, said the soldier had not been captured and is currently with his unit.
"We are still working to determine if all of the equipment in the pictures was lost during recent operations or at some other time in the past," Cleveland said.
The amount of equipment, including what appears to be a 66mm single-shot rocket launcher, 40mm grenades, medium machine gun ammunition, multiple rucksacks, including two smaller assault packs, a sandbag, a handheld radio, pin flares, knee pads, a body armor carrier, a kit bag, a spare machine gun barrel, multiple rifle magazines, notebooks, medical equipment and goggles, suggest that either a position could have been overrun or a vehicle might have been ambushed - though Cleveland refuted both scenarios.
The U.S. military has been operating in eastern Afghanistan for years, and while some of the equipment could have been captured from a recent operation it is also possible some of it might have been left behind or captured in the past and pulled into the picture for added propaganda value.
The type of equipment, along with an additional list of gear that is also pictured in the cache, indicates that at least some of the radio batteries, ammunition, and kit likely belonged to a Special Operations unit. The list, partially handwritten and featured in one of the photos, has what appears to be a breakdown of the serialized equipment carried by a U.S. soldier, although it is unclear if the equipment belongs to the soldier whose ID was also captured.