Afghan skirmish kills U.S. soldier, wounds 5

Enemy incursions are common in area near border with Pakistan

April 26, 2003|By Chris Kraul | Chris Kraul,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.S. paratrooper was killed yesterday and five other soldiers were wounded in a skirmish with possible Taliban remnants in violent southeastern Afghanistan, the latest in a series of incidents that have prompted officials here to implore Pakistan to tighten border security.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government announced that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will visit U.S. troops tomorrow at the Bagram airbase miles 35 miles northeast of Kabul, the capital. Rumsfeld also plans to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and visit U.S. soldiers in Iraq on the same trip.

This remote corner of Afghanistan has been the scene of constant incursions by enemy fighters who cross from mountainous refuges in Pakistan to fire 107 mm rockets or attack the U.S. base or patrols before fleeing back across the border.

While praising Pakistan's cooperation in hunting down al-Qaida fugitives, the U.S. military has repeatedly requested that the Pakistani government better patrol the border area to control what coalition forces view as a haven for terrorists.

After U.S.-led coalition forces drove the Taliban from power, it is thought, many surviving elements and al-Qaida members fled to unsettled tribal areas in Pakistan.

The name of the soldier killed yesterday is being withheld pending notification of relatives. The five wounded soldiers were being treated last night at the Bagram base. Seriously wounded soldiers are typically airlifted immediately to a military hospital in Germany.

The clash occurred after a U.S. platoon responded to reports of suspicious activity near the Shkin fire base in Paktika province, a few hundred yards from the Pakistani border. The U.S. forces were fired on by about 20 enemy soldiers at a site where rocket attacks had been directed previously against the nearby U.S. base.

A second platoon responded when the enemy fighters fled back to Pakistan, and air support was called in, including U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters and A-10 Thunderbolts. At least three enemy fighters were thought to have been killed in the skirmish.

Chris Kraul is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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