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Warplanes bomb Taliban hideout



Published: Sun, July 3, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A U.S. official said there's no evidence any American soldiers are captives.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Warplanes pounded a suspected Taliban compound in the Afghan mountains near where an elite U.S. military team disappeared last week, and violence elsewhere left 38 rebels and Afghan security forces dead as fighting rose ahead of fall elections.

A transport plane flew home the bodies of 16 U.S. troops -- eight Navy SEALs and eight other troops -- killed when their helicopter was shot down while trying to rescue the missing team, U.S. officials said Saturday.

It was not clear if there were any casualties in the airstrike late Friday in mountains near Asadabad town, Kunar province, close to the Pakistani border. U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said a "battle damage assessment is ongoing."

"We conducted an airstrike on a target we deemed we had to hit immediately. The target was an enemy compound in Kunar province," he said. "The bombing was done using precision guided munitions. The target objective was intelligence driven."

O'Hara declined to say whether the airstrike was directly related to the missing military team, which was last heard from in the same area Tuesday.

Militant's reports

A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, claimed Friday that militants had captured one of the men and said he was a "high-ranking American" caught in the same area as where the helicopter went down. He reiterated the claim Saturday in a phone call with The Associated Press.

"The soldier is being held in Kunar. Taliban leaders will decide what to do with him," Hakimi said. "He is being kept in a home. His health is all right."

When asked to provide evidence that the soldier was in captivity, he said, "Tomorrow we will give proof."

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.

Reacting to the claim, O'Hara said there was no evidence indicating that any of the soldiers had been taken into captivity.

He said U.S. forces were using all their resources to search for the missing men. The troops are a small team from the special operations forces, military officials said.

The downed Chinook helicopter had been trying to extract the soldiers when it went into the mountains.




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