KABUL, Afghanistan – A group of U.S. soldiers was unaccounted for Friday in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan (search), the same area where a special forces helicopter was shot down earlier this week.
U.S. forces are using "every available asset" to find them, a U.S. military spokesman said.
The MH-47 Chinook helicopter (search) — with 16 people on board who all died in the crash — had gone into the mountains Tuesday to "extract the soldiers." The team on the ground has been missing since the chopper was downed, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara said.
But on Thursday, during a Pentagon (search) briefing, military officials suggested no one was missing.
"We do not have any people classified as missing at this point," Marine Lt. Gen. James Conway, the Joint Staff operations chief, told reporters.
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 (search) 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 (search) 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.