Soldiers Missing In Afghanistan

US soldier with US Flag over a map of Afghanistan.
A small team of U.S. soldiers was missing Friday in the same mountains in eastern Afghanistan where a special forces helicopter was shot down earlier this week, and U.S. forces are using "every available asset" to find them, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The MH-47 Chinook helicopter — with 16 people on board who all died in the crash — had gone into the mountains Tuesday to extract the soldiers who are now missing. The team on the ground has been unaccounted for since the chopper was downed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, meanwhile, claimed the rebels had captured a U.S. soldier in the area, near the town of Asadabad, close to the Pakistani border.

"One high-ranking American has been captured in fighting in the same area as the helicopter went down," he told The Associated Press. "I won't give you any more details now."

Reacting to the claim, O'Hara said, "We have no proof or evidence indicating anything other than the soldiers are missing."

Hakimi, who also claimed that the insurgents shot down the helicopter, often calls news organizations to take responsibility for attacks, often with information that proves exaggerated or untrue. His exact tie to the Taliban leadership is not clear.

O'Hara said U.S. forces were using "every available asset" to search for the missing troops. "Until we find our guys, they are still listed as unaccounted for and everything we got in that area is oriented on finding the missing men," he said.

The loss of the 16 troops on the chopper was the deadliest single blow to American forces who ousted the Taliban in 2001 for harboring al Qaeda and are now fighting an escalating insurgency. The bodies of the 16 have been recovered and troops Friday were trying to identify the remains, the military said.

Rescuers — struggling against stormy weather, insurgents and the rugged terrain — reached the crash site Thursday, about 36 hours after the chopper went down in high mountains near the town of Asadabad.