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Thursday, 2 July 2009

U.S. Soldier Reported Captured in Afghanistan

Various news reports today suggest that an American soldier has been captured alive by militants in Afghanistan - an unprecedented occurrence in the war so far.

Whilst the Taliban and assorted Afghan militias have captured aid workers, journalists and other civilians in the past, this is the first time that an Allied soldier has been captured alive.

From the LA Times:
An American soldier is believed to have been captured by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said today.

The soldier has been missing from his unit since Tuesday, said Army Capt. Elizabeth Mathias. Citing concern for his safety, she did not disclose the circumstances of his disappearance, explain how military authorities had concluded that he was being held, or say whether there had been any communication with insurgents about the missing man.

The brief military statement was not definitive about a capture having occurred; Mathias said the soldier was "believed" to have fallen into the hands of "militant forces."

There was no immediate public claim of responsibility from any insurgent group. A number of militant commanders, not all of them affiliated with the Taliban, operate in eastern Afghanistan.

However, the Reuters news agency quoted a senior Taliban commander, Mullah Sangeen, as saying the soldier was captured this week as he left a base in Paktika province on patrol.

If the reports are borne out and an American soldier was seized alive, it would be an unprecedented coup for the insurgents. They could exploit a capture for propaganda purposes or demand concessions such as a prisoner exchange.
The news comes on the day that U.S. forces have launched a massive operation to clear southern Helmand Province of Taliban influence:

Thousands of US Marines stormed into an Afghan river valley by helicopter and land early today, launching the first major military offensive of Barack Obama's presidency with an assault deep into Taleban-held territory.

Operation Khanjar, which the Marines call simply "the decisive op", is intended to seize virtually the entire lower Helmand River valley, a heartland of the Taleban insurgency and the world's biggest heroin producing region.

It is the biggest operation launched by the US Marines Corps since the retaking of Fallujah in 2004 and seeks to break the grinding stalemate between Nato forces and the Taleban in the province.

US commanders stressed this morning their desire to move quickly and decisively with overwhelming force to seize the entire southern Helmand River valley from Taleban control ahead of the delayed Afghan Presidential elections on August 20.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marines in southern Afghanistan said in a statement.

He told his staff before the operation: "The intent is to go big, go strong and go fast, and by doing so we are going to save lives on both sides."

The 4,000 men from US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade enjoy the support of their own integrated air wing, giving them more air support than the entire 8,000 strong British force has had at its disposal.

The US force went into action with the support of 650 Afghan troops, an operation by foreign ground troops on a scale unseen in Afghanistan since the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

The operation would have an initial highly aggressive stage lasting 36 hours, AFP reported.

Also reported today was the news that two British soldiers died yesterday in an explosion. The soldiers, from the Welsh Guards and the Royal Tank Regiment, were on patrol near Lashkar Gah in Helmand province on Wednesday afternoon.

***Update 3rd July 12:12***

One of the British soldiers killed was Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, 39, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards.

He is the most senior British soldier to die in action since Lieutenant-Colonel 'H' Jones was shot dead during the Falklands campaign in 1982.

Trooper Joshua Hammond, 19, was also killed when th Viking armoured vehicle was blown up. Six soldiers were wounded, some critically.

171 British soldiers have now died in Afghanistan.

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