Taliban Claims To Be Holding U.S. Soldier

U.S. scours tribal lands in desperate search for missing G.I. as U.S. suffers first casualties in Afghan campaign

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    The soldier is has been missing since June 30, a day before a major Marine operation began in the country, with thousands of troops descending on a rugged valley in an effort to uproot Taliban forces.

    A U.S. soldier is believed to be in the hands of a militant Taliban faction holding him in the remote hills along Afghanistan's rugged border with Pakistan, and military leaders from three nations are pressing tribal leaders to help get him back safe.

    Taliban commanders told CNN the unidentified soldier was grabbed, along with three Afghan fighters, when he got drunk at a military post. They said they will release a video of him along with their demands. U.S. officials believe the soldier was taken by low-level militants and sold to a notorious militant clan known as the Haqqanis.

    "Our leaders have not decided on the fate of this soldier," said a Haqqani commander, according to Agence-France Press. "They will decide on his fate and soon we will present video tapes of the coalition soldier and our demand to media."

    U.S. military officials disputed the Taliban claim, but were unable to explain how or why the soldier left his base in the Mullakheil district of Patika. The solider appears to have walked off his base and into an area that was not secure, military officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Washington Post.

    "We are using all of our resources to find him and provide for his safe return," U.S. military spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias said.

    The Haqqanis, who operate on both sides of the border, are lobbying local tribal leaders to win support for holding the captive. U.S., Afghan and Pakistani troops are sealing off the area and also are talking to tribal chiefs, village elders and leaders, telling them not to shelter Haqqani operatives and to help find the American.

     "We want to make sure there is no place to hide," a military official told CNN.

    Mathias said she was not releasing more details on where the soldier had disappeared or the circumstances surrounding his capture "to protect the solder's well-being."

    The missing soldier was not part of the major military operation that the U.S. began in the country shortly after 1 a.m. local time, with thousands of troops descending on a rugged valley of Helmand in an effort to uproot Taliban forces, military officials said.

    Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," is part of President Obama’s pledge to commit more military resources to the war in Afghanistan and represents the Marine’s largest mission since the 2004 incursion into Fallujah in Iraq, officers told the Washington Post.

    The U.S. military suffered it's first casualties Thursday when one Marine was killed and several other injured on the first day of the assault which has an immediate goal of clearing away Taliban before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

    President Barack Obama told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that he has a "very narrow definition of success when it comes to our national security interests" in the region. "And that is that al-Qaida and its affiliates cannot set up safe havens from which to attack Americans."

    "I think we can measure it by whether or not they've got training camps where people are coming in and getting trained in explosives, being sent out and directed in carrying out terrorist activity," Obama said in Washington.

    Nearly 4,000 troops flooded into the volatile Helmand River valley in southern Afghanistan and set up camps in the towns and villages where a resurgent Taliban have ruled over the local population and have succeeded in kicking out police and government officials and helping to set up a fair election in that country, the Post reported.

    “We're doing this very differently," the brigade's commander, Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson said. "We're going to be with the people. We're not going to drive to work. We're going to walk to work."

    The new strategy is based on the notion that the Taliban are powerful in the southern towns and villages, but do not enjoy popular support.

    "Our focus is not the Taliban," Nicholson said. "Our focus must be on getting this government back up on its feet."