KABUL, Afghanistan, AP- A U.S. serviceman rescued from the mountains of Afghanistan was being evaluated Monday, an official said, while American forces pushed on with their search for other team members.
A member of an elite U.S. military team missing in Afghan mountains since last week was rescued, a U.S. Defense Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the continuing search.
He declined to say when the rescue occurred or provide other details, including a reaction to reports that the team consisted of several U.S. Navy Seals.
Marie Shaw, a spokeswoman for Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, told The Associated Press on Monday that the rescued serviceman was still in Afghanistan. A decision whether to send him to the medical center in Germany would come later Monday or Tuesday, she said.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O”Hara declined to comment on the rescued serviceman, but said an unspecified number of other troops were still missing in the mountains. "We still have missing servicemembers. The search continues and all available assets are being used," he said.
The small special operations unit was reported missing last Tuesday in mountains in Kunar province, near the border with Pakistan, setting off an extensive U.S. military search.
A rescue effort the same day ended in tragedy when a transport helicopter seeking to extract the team was shot down, killing 16 troops aboard. It was the deadliest single blow yet to American forces who ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The deaths brought to 45 the number of U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan over the last three months as a revitalized Taliban has stepped up its insurgency ahead of fall elections. Taliban-led rebels have targeted hundreds of people linked to Karzai”s government in violence since March that has left nearly 700 people dead and threatened three years of progress toward peace.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, claimed last week that militants had captured one member of the team and said he was a "high-ranking American" caught in the same area as where the helicopter went down, but refused to elaborate.
Hakimi, who also claimed insurgents shot down the helicopter, often calls news organizations to take responsibility for attacks, and the information frequently proves exaggerated or untrue. His exact tie to the Taliban leadership is unclear.
U.S. officials said there was no evidence indicating that any of the soldiers had been taken into captivity.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Afghan soldiers fighting alongside U.S. troops in the mountains have encircled a small group of suspected al-Qaida fighters, but no leaders of Osama bin Laden”s network are believed to be in the area, Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told the AP.
Wardak said the rugged, wooded mountains in Kunar are popular with militants because they are "easy to infiltrate and get out quickly." He said al-Qaida is not thought to have permanent bases there, but that small teams of fighters roam the area.
"Some enemy have been encircled. But we don”t believe there is a high-profile target there," he said.
In a separate development, a joint United Nations-Afghan government electoral commission condemned the killing of a senior pro-government cleric, Mohammed Nabi Misbah, in the southern city of Kandahar on Sunday.
Misbah had been working for the commission in the city ahead of the landmark legislative elections in September, said Bronwyn Curran, a spokeswoman for the organization. Police have blamed the Taliban for the attack.