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Concern that two U.S. soldiers in Eastern Afghanistan may have been poisoned by locally bought tobacco has prompted at least one U.S. brigade to bar troops from buying cigarettes or dip on the Afghan economy.

The two soldiers became critically ill with similar symptoms over a two-day period in late July, said Lt. Col. Paul A. Fanning, a military spokesman. The soldiers, who had been found unconscious, were placed on life support and evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. They were later transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and remain hospitalized, officials said.

Fanning said an investigation into what caused the Task Force Phoenix soldiers to become sick had not reached a definite conclusion.

"The possibility that the soldiers may have ingested something has not been ruled out, nor has it been proven," he said.

But military officials are taking precautions.

A spokesman for Task Force Currahee in east-central Afghanistan said a week-old order banning its soldiers from buying tobacco at local shops was based on information that the two soldiers had "used tobacco purchased from locals laced with potassium cyanide and heroine."

The spokesman, Maj. Patrick Seiber, said that that information was contained in briefing documents, but he didn’t know its ultimate source.

Fanning said it was possible Task Force Currahee had received information he didn’t have, but that medical officers with his unit had told him they didn’t know what had sickened the soldiers.

"They never had anything to say it’s definitely this or that," he said.

However, Fanning said Task Force Phoenix issued a precautionary safety message after the soldiers became ill.

"The enemy has the desire and the ability to hurt us in many ways," the message read, according to Fanning. "One potential method is lacing anything we eat, drink, smoke, dip or chew with substances that are at least harmful and may be fatal. Do not ingest anything obtained from an unapproved source."

A spokesman for the overall U.S. command in Eastern Afghanistan said no blanket order had been issued barring troops from buying tobacco locally.

Officials with Task Force Duke in the northeast said they are not aware of any soldiers from their units being harmed by local products.

But, the task force has issued a precautionary ban on local products "that are consumed internally or put on the body externally."

Those items include lotions, soaps, body washes, mouthwash, colognes and tobacco products such as dip, cigarettes and cigars.

"The health and welfare of troops is always our first concern when making any policy for the troops to follow," said Task Force Duke’s spokesman, Maj. Chevelle Thomas.

Locally bought cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are widely used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially among troops stationed at small outposts who don’t have regular access to a post exchange. The cigarettes are cheap, with some brands selling for as little as $4 a carton.

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