KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Rescue teams found a member of a missing elite military team in the mountains of Afghanistan Sunday, senior military commanders told FOX News.
The three others that make up the rest of the special operations team remain missing and U.S. forces continue the search. Defense Department officials declined to confirm specific reports that three Navy SEALs (search) were being sought.
The military commanders told FOX News they believe the rest of the elite team is alive but refused to discuss details of the operation.
The small special operations unit was reported missing Tuesday in the mountains in Kunar province, near the border with Pakistan, setting off an extensive U.S. military search.
A rescue effort the same day ended in tragedy when a transport helicopter seeking to extract the team was shot down, killing 16 troops aboard. It was the deadliest single blow to American forces who ousted the Taliban in 2001.
The deaths brought to 45 the number of U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan over the last three months as a revitalized Taliban has stepped up its insurgency ahead of fall elections.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, claimed last week that militants had captured one member of the team and said he was a "high-ranking American" caught in the same area as where the helicopter went down, but refused to elaborate.
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.
U.S. officials said there was no evidence indicating that any of the soldiers had been taken into captivity.
Pro-Government Cleric Killed
Meanwhile, gunmen on motorcycles shot a senior pro-government cleric to death Sunday in the second such attack in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar in just over a month.
The cleric, Mohammed Nabi Misbah, a senior member of Afghanistan's Islamic clergy, the Ulema Council, was shot Sunday as he drove from his office to his home in Kandahar, according to city police chief Gen. Ayub Salangi.
He was taken to a nearby U.S. military base for treatment but died, Salangi said.
In late May, cleric Abdul Fayaz, also a supporter of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai, was shot dead. At his funeral, a suicide bomber killed 20 people.
Hitting back at the insurgency, U.S. and Afghan forces killed five suspected Taliban rebels Saturday in mountains east of Kandahar, local police chief Gulam Rassol said. Ten suspected rebels also were captured. U.S.-led coalition troops and Afghan police had raided a rebel camp in the area and were still searching Sunday for more insurgents, he said.
Taliban-led rebels have targeted hundreds of people linked to Karzai's government in an unprecedented surge in violence since March which has left nearly 700 people dead and threatened three years of progress toward peace.
FOX News' Bret Baier, Andrew Hard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.