KABUL - Afghan police have found the body of a Georgian soldier who had been missing for nearly two weeks.
The police found the body of Sgt. Giorgi Kikadze on Saturday in Helmand province, according to a statement from the Georgian defense ministry. He had been reported missing Dec. 18. His body bore evidence of torture, according to a district police chief who said he saw the body.
A statement from the International Security Assistance Force says Kikadze was captured and that the circumstances are being investigated, though it offers no other details of his disappearance.
Police found Kikadze’s body Saturday afternoon in an empty compound south of the town of Musa Qala, according to Musa Qala disctrict police chief Abdul Latif Alizai.
It appears Kikadze had been badly beaten and stabbed before being shot in the head four times, Alizai said.
Coalition troops in Regional Command-Southwest, which encompasses Helmand and Nimroz provinces, launched a search and rescue effort after Kikadze was reported missing.
“Today it is the hardest day personally for me,” Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said in a statement announcing the soldier’s death.
A mid-level Taliban commander in Helmand disputed ISAF’s account, saying Kikadze was captured after a firefight three weeks ago when he was left behind by fleeing comrades after insurgents destroyed two Georgian vehicles.
The commander said the Taliban had tried to negotiate a prisoner exchange with ISAF and executed Kikadze when ISAF refused.
The killing comes two days after Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid was quoted in The New York Times as saying the Taliban does not summarily execute prisoners. In an interview with Stars and Stripes, the commander repeated the assertion, but said he is not sure of the circumstances surrounding Kikadze’s death.
“I still say we try as much as possible to keep prisoners alive,” he said, pointing out that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been kept alive since his capture in 2009.
The Taliban is known to make exaggerated claims.
An ISAF official said there is no evidence Kikadze was captured following a battle, and that he was reported missing Dec. 18, not three weeks ago. The official had no information about any proposed prisoner exchange.
Georgia, with just 4.5 million inhabitants, is the largest contributor of troops to Afghanistan among non-NATO nations, with more than 1,500 troops in the country. This year the small nation, located in the Caucasus, nearly doubled its troop commitment at a time when many nations are withdrawing troops.
This appears to be the first such case of an ISAF servicemember captured in Afghanistan since a British soldier was briefly kidnapped and then executed during an operation in 2011. Bergdahl was captured by insurgents in 2009 and remains the only coalition soldier held captive. Despite numerous search and rescue operations and a failed escape attempt, he is still missing and believed to be held by the Haqqani network.
Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report