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Commando reportedly beheaded

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A purported Taliban spokesman said Saturday that the group has beheaded a missing American commando, but he offered no proof and the U.S. military said it was still searching for the Navy SEAL.

The commando is the last of a four-member elite commando team missing since June 28 in Kunar, near the Pakistani border. One of the men was rescued and the other two were found dead.

“This morning in Shagal district in Kunar province, the Taliban killed the American soldier and cut his head off,” Mullah Latif Hakimi, the purported spokesman, told the Associated Press in a telephone call. “We left the body on a mountainside in this area so Afghan or U.S. soldiers there can find it.”

Hakimi repeatedly has said the rebels were holding the commando, but information from him in the past has frequently proven exaggerated or untrue, and his exact tie to the Taliban leadership cannot be independently verified.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said the search for the commando was continuing.

“The only proof we have is that he is missing,” he said. “We will run down these reports to see if anything thing pans out.”

About 300 troops and several aircraft have been searching for the U.S. Navy SEAL in the rugged mountains in eastern Afghanistan, the military has said.

The Navy SEAL team went missing after a special forces helicopter carrying reinforcements to the mountainous area was shot down, killing all 16 Americans on board, the deadliest single attack on the U.S. military since the war here began in 2001.

The 16 troops on the helicopter were responding to a call for help from the four SEAL commandos on reconnaissance in the rugged Afghan mountains who were attacked by militants.

Kunar province has long been a hotbed of militant activity and a haven for fighters loyal to renegade former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the United States. U.S. officials said al Qaeda fighters also were in the region. Osama bin Laden was not said to be there – though he is believed to be somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier.