Afghan Taliban says they are holding missing U.S. soldier

Other News Materials 16 July 2009 14:37 (UTC +04:00)

A Taliban commander in southeastern Afghanistan said on Thursday that a missing U.S. soldier was being held unharmed by insurgents, but warned he would be killed if efforts were made to find him, Reuters reported.

The soldier has been missing in Paktika province since late June, just before thousands of U.S. Marines began a major new offensive.

The U.S. military has said he was presumed captured.

Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin said the group's leadership council would decide the soldier's fate, but he accused the U.S. military of harassing and arresting Afghans in Paktika and neighboring Ghazni province.

"They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill him," Sangin, the Taliban commander for Paktika province, told a Reuters reporter by telephone from an undisclosed area.

Sangin said the soldier was captured in an area bordering Pakistan and gave some brief background detail about him, including his age.

The Taliban have vowed to drive tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO-led troops out of Afghanistan and topple the Western-backed Afghan government. Afghanistan is to vote in its second presidential election on August 20.

The Helmand offensive, in conjunction with a similar British effort, is the first major operation under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its militant Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan.

With military commanders warning of a spike in casualties during the offensive, July has already equaled the deadliest monthly tally in the eight-year-old war, with 46 foreign troops killed in the first two weeks of the month.