U.S. forces rescued a member of a Special Operations reconnaissance team in the rugged mountains of northeastern Afghanistan on Sunday, five days after the group disappeared amid hostile fire, according to a U.S. defense official.
The official said the search continued for three other members of the team in Konar province, near the Pakistani border. All four men are Navy SEALs, he said.
The rescued service member, who had been injured, was taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, according to the official. No further details were given.
Also Sunday, a member of Afghanistan's influential Council of Clerics who was a prominent supporter of President Hamid Karzai was shot and killed in the southern city of Kandahar. The cleric, Maulvi Mohammad Nabi Masah, was driving home from his office when unknown gunmen on motorcycles attacked him.
The assassination came during a campaign of violence launched recently by fighters linked to the ousted extremist Islamic Taliban government who have vowed to disrupt parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Since the start of spring, the insurgents have carried out near-daily bombings and ambushes targeting pro-government tribal leaders and clerics, government employees, aid workers and U.S. and Afghan forces throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. and Afghan forces, meanwhile, have been engaged in an aggressive effort to flush the fighters from their hideouts, prompting a series of fierce battles in which more than 300 insurgents have been killed.
On Sunday, U.S. forces continued their search for fighters in the mountains east of Kandahar after a battle Saturday in which at least two fighters were killed, according to news services and a U.S. military statement.
Forty-five U.S. soldiers have died since April -- 25 of them killed in combat -- in addition to scores of Afghan policemen and soldiers.
The Navy SEAL rescued in Konar was recovered by forces participating in a massive hunt that began after officials lost contact with the team Tuesday. Shortly afterward, a Special Operations helicopter sent to assist them crashed near its intended landing site, killing all 16 service members on board. Military officials say they believe the helicopter was shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Few other details were known about the search effort because defense officials remain reluctant to discuss it out of concern that they would compromise the ongoing operation.
The Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed senior Afghan police official, reported that U.S. forces bombarded hostile fighters' positions in the area Sunday. U.S. military officials have reported only conducting an airstrike on a suspected insurgent compound on Friday.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Abdul Latif Hakimi, called news organizations and claimed that 25 civilians had died in the airstrike on the compound. U.S. military officials have said they were still assessing damage at the site.