By Kimberly Hefling
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Special Forces attacked a Taliban headquarters north of Kandahar, killing a number of fighters and taking 27 prisoners, U.S. officials said today. One American soldier was wounded in the attack.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington that American troops attacked adjacent sites in a mountain region 60 miles north of Kandahar.
“Our forces attacked two compounds and detained 27 individuals,” Myers said at the Pentagon. “There were enemy forces killed in this action and one U.S. special forces soldier was slightly injured. He was wounded in the ankle and was then evacuated.”
The soldier, who was not identified, was the first American battlefield casualty since Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman was killed Jan. 4 in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan. Eleven U.S. troops have been killed in aviation crashes during the Afghan campaign.
U.S. officials said they believed the prisoners seized may include both Taliban and members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network but they were unsure whether senior leaders were among them.
“There’s a whole lot more of these,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said of Taliban and al-Qaida outposts. “We’re going to keep at them until we get them.”
Also today, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that U.S. warplanes bombed a suspected al-Qaida terrorist camp near the eastern town of Khost. The agency quoted residents as saying the camp had been abandoned for some time.
The report could not be independently confirmed.
The airstrike would be the first since several days of intensive bombing of a suspected al-Qaida tunnel complex near Khost ended Jan. 14. Residents said many houses were destroyed and at least a dozen people killed.
Although the air campaign has diminished, special forces have been stepping up the search for Taliban and al-Qaida renegades. On Tuesday, U.S. troops conducted a house-to-house search in four villages of Helmand province, west of Kandahar, looking for the deposed Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, according to Afghan officials in the area. No trace of him was found.
In Tajikistan, the U.S. commander of the military campaign in Afghanistan, Gen. Tommy Franks, thanked President Emomali Rakhmonov for the ex-Soviet republic’s support for the war on terror.
Tajikistan, which has a 750-mile border with Afghanistan, is a key conduit for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. It has also offered air bases to the anti-terrorism coalition.
“We are working with the Afghan armed forces under the leadership of Gen. Rahim Kahn to visit each of the sites and each of the areas where we know there have been terrorist cells in the past and we are continuing to gather information and we are continuing to locate and kill terrorists,” Franks said in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
He also said there was no competition between Washington and Moscow for influence in Central Asia, and that the United States had no plans to open military bases in Tajikistan.
Russian troops have been guarding the Tajik-Afghan border for years, and concern is mounting in Russia that U.S. troops will become a permanent feature in Central Asia, which Moscow considers its sphere of influence.
The recent U.S. operations in Afghanistan are taking place amid simmering tensions between warlords, whose deep-seated feuds combined with stragglers from al-Qaida continue to make Afghanistan highly dangerous two months after the radical Taliban were driven from power.
A British-led international security force has been sent to the capital Kabul to assist new interim administration in maintaining order. Afghan leaders who ousted the Taliban opposed deployment of a large, heavily armed peacekeeping force with a nationwide mandate.
That has raised fears that the country may fall under the control of regional warlords with little sense of loyalty to the central government.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was to visit Kabul on Friday to show his support for the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
In a sign of feuding among warlords, the governor of Kandahar province, Gul Agha, accused Iran of sending vehicles and weapons into Afghanistan to undermine the Karzai administration.
Agha and others have accused the warlord of the western city of Herat, Ismail Khan, of accepting Iranian support. Agha denied reports that he had sent fighters westward to confront Khan’s forces.
“We haven’t sent any militias against them,” Agha told a rally attended by about 5,000 people. “We are waiting for the interim government of Prime Minister Karzai. I have been in contact with him. Whatever he says, I will do.”
The United States has warned Iran to not meddle in Afghanistan, citing reports that Tehran has sent pro-Iranian fighters and money into the country that would destabilize the government.
Iran, Pakistan and Russia have long tried to influence events in Afghanistan. Tehran was particularly hostile to the Taliban, which was founded in Kandahar and imposed an extreme brand of Sunni Islam that trampled on Shiite Muslims supported by Tehran.
In other developments:
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