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Afghan Taliban says they are holding missing US soldier

A TALIBAN commander in southeastern Afghanistan said today that a missing US soldier was being held unharmed by insurgents, but warned he would be killed if efforts were made to find him.

The soldier has been missing in Paktika province since late June, just before thousands of US Marines began a major new offensive.

The US military has said he was presumed captured.

Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin said the group's leadership council would decide the soldier's fate, but he accused the US military of harassing and arresting Afghans in Paktika and neighbouring Ghazni province.

"They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill him," Sangin, the Taliban commander for Paktika province, told a Reuters reporter by telephone from an undisclosed area.

Sangin said the soldier was captured in an area bordering Pakistan and gave some brief background detail about him, including his age.

The Taliban have vowed to drive tens of thousands of US and NATO-led troops out of Afghanistan and topple the Western-backed Afghan government. Afghanistan is to vote in its second presidential election on Aug. 20.

The Helmand offensive, in conjunction with a similar British effort, is the first major operation under US President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its militant Islamist allies and stabilise Afghanistan.

With military commanders warning of a spike in casualties during the offensive, July has already equalled the deadliest monthly tally in the eight-year-old war, with 46 foreign troops killed in the first two weeks of the month.


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