Afghanistan Update: U.S. Squad Goes Missing

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A small squad of U.S. troops were reported missing Friday in Afghanistan, days after the downing of a U.S. helicopter killed 16 service members. Madeleine Brand speaks with Carlotta Gall of The New York Times, reporting from Afghanistan, about the increased violence in the country.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

US forces in Afghanistan are still searching today for an American reconnaissance team that's missing. Earlier this week, a helicopter that was coming to help the team was shot down, with the loss of 16 American military personnel. With us now from Kabul is Carlotta Gall of The New York Times.

And, Carlotta, what's happening today in the eastern region of Afghanistan where that US helicopter was shot down?

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (The New York Times): All we know is that they're still searching for people who were on the ground when the helicopter went down. It seems the helicopter was going in to reinforce a unit of soldiers on the ground who'd requested support, and it then crashed, killing all 16. And now, only now, do we learn that the original unit are still missing. The military's not saying much about it except that they don't have reason to believe that they are dead or injured, but we don't know if that means they've been in touch with them since Tuesday. The helicopter crashed on Tuesday. We're not very clear as to where they are and what sort of state they're in. We don't also know how many of them are, but we understand it's a small group.

BRAND: And does the military suspect the Taliban is behind this?

Ms. GALL: Well, we've spoken several times to the Taliban's spokesman this week. He's often unreliable--his name's Abdul Latif Hakimi--but on the helicopter crash his report was quite accurate, so now he also says that the Taliban captured some American spies. He said this earlier in the week and we couldn't obviously confirm it. Now we're wondering if this is the unit that's gone missing. He's changed his story today in a conversation with Reuters and said that they have one American soldier captured, the Taliban. So we really don't know and his reporting has been unreliable in the past.

BRAND: This is one of the worst incidences for the American military since the campaign in Afghanistan began. What's happening in general with the security situation there?

Ms. GALL: Well, it's been quite alarming the last few months just because we had such a quiet winter with the American military and the Afghan government claiming that the Taliban was in decline, and they definitely went quiet through the winter, and now we've seen a very concerted resurgence in several mountainous areas where we've always known Taliban have been, but they're now emerging in large groups, and so they have engaged the American military in pretty serious combat. In at least three different areas we've had very serious battles in the last two months. It does seem that they are still in there with a strong capability to fight and cause damage. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, we've got continued ambushes, roadside explosions. We've even had some car bombs this year, which has alarmed, I think, Afghan residents and the foreign, international community here because it shows that there's also a terrorist element that, perhaps a bit like Iraq, wants to cause disruption across the board and in the cities as well, to prevent the young Afghan government working properly.

BRAND: Carlotta Gall is a correspondent for The New York Times. She spoke to us from Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you.

Ms. GALL: Thank you.

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