Missing US soldier rescued in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

Pentagon officials gave few specifics of the operation, which comes during a flare-up of violence across the country. A few hours after the special forces squad disappeared on Tuesday, a Chinook helicopter sent to support it was shot down with the loss of all 16 men on board.

The deadly hit was described as "a lucky shot" by Pentagon commanders.

But it was the heaviest single combat loss since President George Bush sent US troops and warplanes to help topple the former Taliban regime in 2001.

A senior US official said the rescued soldier, a member of a special forces reconnaissance team in Kunar province, was "in good shape." Apparently he had not been captured - as the Taliban claimed was the case for at least one of the missing men.

An intense search continues for the rest of the squad and further military clashes are likely. The area is mountainous, wooded and demanding, with a high likelihood of enemy contact, one US official said. Bad weather has impeded the rescue efforts. No contact has been made with other members of the missing squad since they first called for reinforcements on Tuesday, radioing that they had been engaged by insurgents. US officials maintain they are probably still alive, and reject Taliban claims they have been taken prisoner.

The clashes in Kunar come when US and Afghan forces are dealing with some of the most determined resistance since 2001, almost certainly aimed at disrupting the elections scheduled later this year.

Six Afghan soldiers and police officers were killed by a roadside bomb on Saturday in Paktika province east of the major city of Kandahar in the south of the country. Two policemen died in clashes with militants in Uruzgan province to the north of the city.

US and Afghan forces killed five suspected rebels in fighting in the south yesterday, while gunmen on motorbikes shot and killed a senior pro-government cleric. Ten suspected insurgents were also captured,as coalition troops and Afghan police raided a rebel camp in the area.

Even as the fighting intensified, reconciliation efforts are under way between the government of President Hamid Karzai and the rebels.

On Saturday, 57 suspected insurgents were released from Bagram air base near Kabul after they promised to lay down their arms and support the government.

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