The Taliban has released a video of a visibly-shaken captive US soldier who was snatched by the Islamist militants in Afghanistan late last month, officials and witnesses said on Sunday.
In the 28-minute clip posted online at the weekend, the soldier who went missing in eastern Afghanistan on June 30 sits on the floor in traditional pale grey Afghan clothing and pleads for US troops to leave the war-torn nation.
The shaven-headed young man, who sports a fledgling beard and appears nervous and frightened, answers questions in English, occasionally choking back sobs as he tells his captors he is scared and wants to see his family.
A US military spokesman in Kabul confirmed the man was the soldier who went missing in Paktika province late last month and condemned the video as "propaganda."
The Pentagon has not yet released his identity.
"I was captured outside of the base camp. I was behind a patrol, lagging behind the patrol and I was captured," the soldier, who says the date is July 14, tells an unseen captor.
Questioned about the US-led invasion that toppled the hardline Taliban government in 2001, the man replies, "Since I've been here and I've seen how these people live and function, we have indeed invaded an independent state."
Prompted to deliver a message to his compatriots, the man calls on foreign troops to leave Afghanistan, where they are helping local forces quell a growing insurgency by the Islamist hard-liners. "Please bring us home so we can be back where we belong and not over here wasting our time and our lives," the soldier says.
Eating food and drinking green tea as he sits in front of a table, the man says the Taliban insurgents are "really treating me like a guest," but becomes distraught and emotional when talking about his family.
"I'm afraid that I might never see them again and that I'll never be able to tell them that I love them again, I'll never be able to hug them," he says. "I'm scared... scared about not being able to go home. It's very unnerving to be a prisoner," the soldier adds.
The man's military dog tags are shown to the camera, with his name visible. A link to the clip was sent to AFP by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed early on Sunday, and has now been posted on a number of websites.
"The US military condemns the release of this video by rebels," a Kabul-based US military spokesman, who requested anonymity, told AFP.
"They're exploiting the soldier for their own propaganda. US and coalition forces are doing everything they can to recover the soldier and get him back unharmed. The Taliban are using it as a propaganda tool," he added.
A man claiming to be a local Taliban commander who gave his name as Bahram contacted an AFP reporter and said the kidnapped man had been taken across the border to Pakistan, where the Taliban are also waging an insurgency.
However, his claims were impossible to verify.
Hundreds of US soldiers and troops from other nations have been killed in Afghanistan battling the widening Taliban-led insurgency.
But the June 30 abduction is believed to be the first time militants have snatched an American soldier in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
A commander of the Taliban's Al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani faction on July 2 claimed the abduction, and the US military acknowledged that a soldier went missing after leaving his base for unexplained reasons.
The Taliban are the main militant group behind an increasingly deadly insurgency which they launched shortly after they were toppled from government.
The violence has reached new heights in recent weeks as thousands of US, British and Afghan troops launched a major assault against the rebel strongholds in the south ahead of national elections next month.