A British soldier has been reported missing in southern Afghanistan, with NATO launching a manhunt to find him.

"The Ministry of Defense can confirm that a British serviceman is missing in Afghanistan. An extensive operation to locate him is under way," the ministry said in a statement tonight.

"The individual was based in central Helmand and was reported missing in the early hours of this morning.

"His next of kin have been informed and they will be updated as the operation continues. We will not release any further details at present."

Afghan police officials in Helmand, where mostly American and British troops are fighting a Taliban insurgency, said a British soldier had been kidnapped in the Gereshk area of Nahri Sarraj district.

A defense spokeswoman in London would not confirm this.

Britain has about 9500 troops in Afghanistan, but media reports at the weekend suggested that Prime Minister David Cameron would announce the withdrawal of at least 500 by the end of 2010, following a similar drawdown by the United States.