Italian journalist and two translators taken hostage in Afghanistan

The Taliban claim to have captured an Italian journalist and his Afgan translator and driver in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban are reported to have seized the three men after they entered an area of Helmand without permission, and have named the journalist as Daniele Mastrogiacomo of Italian daily La Repubblica.

Local newspapers report that a Taliban spokesman said that the three men were seized after entering an area of Helmand without permission and accused them of spying.

The journalist was originally identified as a British journalist named John Nichol, after what appeared to be difficulty in pronouncing the Italian's name. La Repubblica has confirmed Mastrogiacomo is missing.

The two Afghans were named as Ajmal and Syed Agha. Both are known as translators who work with western journalists, and they have been reported missing.

The Taliban spokesman said a car, satellite phones and cameras had been taken from the men who are now being questioned in the custody of regional commander Mullah Dadullah (pictured).

The kidnapping comes as British and American forces launch their biggest ever offensive in Helmand. Codenamed Operation Achilles, the push against the Taliban and drug traffickers will also involve 4,500 troops from Nato's International Security Assistance Force and 1,000 troops from the Afghan National Security Forces.

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