KABUL (Reuters) - The body of a U.S. Navy SEAL commando who was the last of a group of four that went missing in Afghanistan last month has been found and it appears he was killed in action, the U.S. military said on Monday.
The body was located during a search and rescue operation on Sunday in the eastern province of Kunar and indications were he had been killed in a clash with militants there on or about June 28, the day the team went missing, a military statement said.
It said two of the missing commandos were found dead on July 4, having been killed in action, while another was found alive the previous day.
The Taliban had said the missing commando was captured by the guerrillas in the eastern province of Kunar on June 29 and beheaded on Saturday.
A U.S. helicopter sent to aid the SEALs was shot down on the same day they went missing, killing all 16 troops aboard, including eight other Navy SEALs, the heaviest U.S. losses in a single combat operation in Afghanistan.
The deaths have made 2005 the bloodiest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and have come amid stepped-up militant violence ahead of Sept. 18 parliamentary elections, the next big step in Afghanistan's difficult path to stability.
The U.S. military has said it had no indication to suggest the missing man had been captured.
"The location and disposition of the service member's remains indicate he died while fighting off enemy terrorists on or about June 28," the U.S. statement said.
It said the name of the missing man was being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
CNN earlier quoted a senior U.S. defence official as saying the commando was killed in a shoot-out with insurgents and there was "no way" he had been held in captivity.
Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi said at the weekend that the U.S. commando was beheaded on Saturday morning and his body, dressed in red clothes, dumped on a mountainside in Kunar's Shegal district.
U.S. media have said the deaths of eight Navy SEALs aboard the helicopter and those on the ground, were the heaviest ever losses in a combat operation for the 2,400-strong elite force.
SEALs are trained to operate behind enemy lines and, according to the U.S. military, the rescued commando evaded militants for five days.
Hundreds of people have been killed, many of them guerrillas, since the Taliban and allies stepped up violence in March.
Afghan authorities found the decapitated bodies of six policemen on Saturday, the day after they had been ambushed in Helmand province. Officials said another four policemen were killed in the ambush.
Violence claimed 18 other lives in the troubled south on Sunday.
At least 32 U.S. troops have been killed in action since March, making 2005 the bloodiest year for U.S. forces in Afghanistan since they overthrew the Taliban in late 2001, but overall casualties remain a fraction of those in Iraq.
Beheadings have occurred, but rarely, in the guerrilla war since then. Afghan government forces admitted beheading guerrillas on at least one occasion last year.
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