U.S. calls raids a success

Command center hit, weapons destroyed, intelligence gathered

Covert missions continue

Commandos meet `light resistance,' kill Taliban fighters

War On Terrorism

Military Response

October 21, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Scores of U.S. commandos, dropped by parachute and flown in by helicopter under the cover of darkness, attacked an airfield and a Taliban command center in southern Afghanistan, killing an unknown number of forces, destroying a stockpile of weapons and collecting intelligence information, officials said yesterday.

The command center, a complex of buildings, included one of the homes of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, but he was not there, officials said.

A senior defense official told the Associated Press that covert ground operations were continuing in Afghanistan yesterday but declined to provide any details.

Two Army soldiers were killed and three others injured, though not seriously, in a helicopter crash not directly related to the ground action, which took place in the early hours of yesterday and may have begun late Friday night. Their Black Hawk helicopter crashed deep inside neighboring Pakistan in what officials called "a mishap" while they were trying to land.

In the Afghan operation, the first known instance of U.S. troops engaging in ground combat since military action began two weeks ago, there were two minor injuries from the parachute jump. "Light resistance" was encountered on the ground at both locations, officials said.

The nighttime raids by more than 100 Army Rangers and other special operations soldiers took place at an airfield well to the southwest of the city of Kandahar, the Taliban's stronghold, and at a second target, a command and control facility on the outskirts of that city, officials said.

Both operations lasted several hours, officials said, refusing to be more specific.

The troops were subsequently removed from Afghanistan, officials said.

Video of the operation taken by military camera operators and released by the Pentagon showed dozens of Rangers packing their gear inside at a large aircraft hangar, loading onto a heavily armed MC-130E Combat Talon cargo plane, then parachuting onto the airfield.

A separate video showed other commandos on the ground at the command center, collecting rocket-propelled grenades, a machine gun and ammunition. Some explosions could be seen on the grainy, greenish video.

"The mission overall was successful. We accomplished our objectives," Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon, saying American forces "attacked and destroyed targets" and were "refitting for future actions."

Another Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some Taliban fighters were killed but could not say how many. "We know we killed people," the official said. No Taliban or terrorist forces were captured, officials said.

Some of the U.S. troops left calling cards: a large tag showing the rubble of the World Trade Center with firefighters raising an American flag in the foreground, together with two bold words, "Freedom Endures."

President Bush, who is in China for an Asian economic conference, said he was satisfied with the military attacks and grieved over the deaths of the U.S. soldiers.

"We are slowly but surely encircling the terrorists so that we can bring them to justice," Bush said. The two soldiers "died in a cause that is right and just."

Special operations forces have been in Afghanistan for more than two weeks, collecting intelligence and linking up with rebel forces, said Pentagon officials and anti-Taliban rebel spokesmen.

Myers said: "One of the primary reasons we conducted these missions on these two objectives was to gather intelligence. And we are in the process of evaluating that intelligence we brought out." Officials would not characterize the type of intelligence information seized.

Psychological warfare was another objective of the mission, said the Air Force general. "One of the messages should be that we are capable of, at a time of our choosing, conducting the kinds of operations we want to conduct," he said.

Myers said there were "very low expectations" that Omar, any of the other senior Taliban leadership, fugitive Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden or any of his top lieutenants in the al-Qaida network would be present at either of the target sites.

More than a week ago, U.S. aircraft attacks destroyed another house outside Kandahar in which Omar was said to reside. The Taliban ambassador in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said Omar had left only minutes before.

The Pentagon did not release the names of the soldiers killed in the Black Hawk crash, pending notification of family. The injuries to the three other soldiers in the crash were not life-threatening, officials said.

"Let me pass on my personal condolences to the families of the two soldiers killed in yesterday's helicopter crash in Pakistan," Myers said. "They and all who are participating in Operation Enduring Freedom are heroes. They put their lives on the line on behalf of freedom and on behalf of America, and they do it each and every day. And I'm so very proud of them and their comrades in arms."

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