Missing US soldier's body found in Afghan river

AP News
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Posted: Nov 11, 2009 4:18 PM

Military divers have found the body of a U.S. paratrooper who disappeared last week along with another soldier as the two tried to retrieve airdropped supplies from a river in western Afghanistan, NATO said Wednesday.

Relatives said they believe Spc. Benjamin Sherman of Plymouth, Mass., died after jumping into the river to try to save his comrade, who was also swept away by the current.

Afghan and international forces are still searching for the second missing paratrooper in the remote, Taliban-infested province of Badghis, which borders Turkmenistan. He has not been identified.

Sherman's wife, Patricia, said military officials told her that the circumstances of his death remain under investigation, but his family believes Spc. Sherman died trying to rescue his friend.

"I know that day he jumped into the river to try to save his comrade was not because he didn't just see another soldier in the water, he saw his brother," said his sister, Meredith Sherman. "He didn't jump in because he was trained to, but because that's what his heart told him to do."

The two paratroopers, both from the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, disappeared Nov. 4 in the Bala Barghab area of Badghis during a routine resupply mission. Local police had said the two were swept away by the river as they tried to recover airdropped supplies that had accidentally fallen into the water.

During the first days of the search, intense fighting broke out with militants in the area. Eight Afghans _ four soldiers, three policemen and an interpreter _ were killed, while 17 Afghan troops and five American soldiers were wounded.

Afghanistan's Defense Ministry had said at the time that the deaths and injuries had been caused by "an air attack by NATO forces" during the fighting. NATO has said authorities are investigating whether some of the casualties were caused by a friendly fire airstrike.

Separately, the Swedish military said five of its troops were wounded and their Afghan interpreter was killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in northern Afghanistan Wednesday.

Army spokesman Torbjorn Gustafsson said the soldiers were on patrol with Afghan security forces about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the town of Mazar-e-Sharif at the time of the explosion. Sweden has about 450 troops in Afghanistan.

The increasing casualty rate for international forces, coupled with concerns over the Afghan administration's commitment to fighting rampant corruption, has led to waning public support for the Afghan war in several countries that have troops there.

Opinion polls in Australia, whose 1,550 troops make up the largest non-NATO contingent in Afghanistan, have consistently shown that the war is unpopular there. Eleven Australian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, the most recent in July.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd paid a surprise visit on Wednesday _ which was Remembrance Day _ to his country's troops stationed in the southern province of Uruzgan, where they are mainly focused on training an Afghan National Army brigade.

Rudd, who ousted conservative leader John Howard in 2007 elections, fulfilled a campaign promise to pull Australia's troops out of Iraq but has consistently said Australia will keep troops in Afghanistan until the threat of terrorism spreading from the country ends.

"We in Australia are here for the long haul. We from Australia will remain for the long haul," Rudd said during ceremonies remembering Australian war dead.

His visit came as news broke that an Australian soldier was wounded Tuesday by a roadside bomb during a joint patrol with Afghan forces in Uruzgan. The soldier suffered minor shrapnel wounds to the leg and was airlifted to an international military medical facility, the Australian Defense Department said Wednesday.

In Kabul, visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere stressed that Afghans and the international community must focus sharply on improving the competence of the newly elected government. Stoere said there was no political issue in Afghanistan that could be solved by sending in more troops.

Hamid Karzai won his presidential re-election campaign by default earlier this month, after his main challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of a runoff claiming the vote would not be free and fair. Karzai has come under intense international pressure to ensure his new government cracks down on rampant corruption.

Stoere said that although much needed to be improved on the international side, "the assistance from Afghanistan's partners, military, civilian or economic will not be better than the quality of the new government of Afghanistan."

He cautioned against taking too gloomy an outlook on the situation in Afghanistan but said the nation was too dependent on international assistance.

In southern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives near a NATO military convoy in the province of Zabul, killing a man and a woman and wounding another three bystanders, the province's governor said.

Gulab Shah Ali Khail said the bomber struck in the district of Shajoy. Afghan Army officer Aimal Khan also said the motorcycle bomber killed two and wounded three.

Tech. Sgt. Angela Eggman, a NATO spokeswoman, confirmed that a military convoy had been hit by an explosion in Zabul that had wounded both Afghan locals and international troops. She did not have any further details.

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Associated Press Writers Mark Pratt in Boston and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.