Afghanistan: US soldier feared captured

Thousands of US Marines launched a major anti-Taliban offensive; troops search for soldier.

US Army Afghanistan 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
US Army Afghanistan 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Us officials on Thursday said an American soldier was believed being held by the Taliban after he walked off his base in eastern Afghanistan. "We understand him to have been captured by militant forces," said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a spokeswoman in Afghanistan. "We have all available resources out there looking for him and hopefully providing for his safe return." The military has intercepted communications in which insurgents talked about holding an American, one US official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record. But several officials declined to say whether there has been any direct communications with the insurgents, nor whether any demands had been made for the soldier's return. The military was largely silent about details surrounding the kidnapping, believed the first such abduction of a US service member in the nearly eight-year-old war. "We are not providing further details to protect the soldier's well-being," Mathias said. Officials would not release his name, rank or other details. US troops were brought in from nearby areas to help with the search, which included helicopters, Afghan Army support and increased use of intelligence gathering resources, officials said. There was no immediate public claim of responsibility from any insurgent group. But large sweeps of eastern Afghanistan along Pakistan's border are believed controlled by the Taliban faction known as the Haqqani network, which also operates on the Pakistan side in that nation's lawless tribal region. The network is led by warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani, whom the US has accused of masterminding beheadings and suicide bombings including the July 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed some 60 people. The Haqqani group also was linked to an assassination attempt on Afghan president Hamid Karzai early last year. News of the suspected capture broke as thousands of US Marines launched a major anti-Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan. The missing soldier was not part of that operation. Afghan Police Gen. Nabi Mullakheil said the soldier went missing in eastern Paktika province, where an American base operates near the Pakistan border. The soldier was noticed missing during a routine check of the unit on Tuesday and first was listed as "duty status whereabouts unknown," a US defense official said on condition of anonymity. Although he was missing, his body armor and weapon were found on the base, two officials said. It was not until Thursday that officials said publicly that he was missing and described him as "believed captured." Details of such incidents are routinely held very tightly by the military as it works to retrieve a missing or captured soldier without giving away any information to captors. Initial reports indicated that the soldier was off duty at the time he went missing, having just completed a watch, one of the officials said. Two US defense sources said the soldier "just walked off" post with three Afghans after he finished working. They said they had no explanation for why he left the base. The missing man is an enlisted soldier serving in an Army infantry unit, and his family has been notified he is missing. The unit was assigned to a combat outpost, one of a number of smaller bases set up by foreign forces in Afghanistan, the officials said.