Covert missions continue in wake of Ranger airborne raid
WASHINGTON -- U.S. secret warriors launched dark-of-night covert missions into Afghanistan in addition to assaults by airborne Army Rangers on a Taliban-controlled airfield and a residence of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Two U.S. soldiers died in a helicopter crash in neighboring Pakistan.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Rangers "accomplished our objectives," although neither Omar nor other Taliban or al-Qaida leaders were present during the attack on a Taliban compound near the southern city of Kandahar.
The two soldiers, whose identities were withheld until relatives were notified, were the first acknowledged combat deaths of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7. Myers said heavy dust clouds created by the chopper's rotating blades during a landing probably caused the crash.
President Bush, in China for an Asian economic conference, did not comment directly on the raid. He said he was satisfied that the military was achieving its objective of destroying terrorist hide-outs.
"We are slowly but surely encircling the terrorists so that we can bring them to justice," Bush said in Shanghai, China. He said he grieved for the dead soldiers, who "died in a cause that is just and right."
Three other Americans were injured in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter, and two Rangers were injured while parachuting onto an airfield in southern Afghanistan at the outset of the raid, Myers said.
Officials would not disclose the role of the Black Hawk, although some believed it was preparing to swoop across the border into Afghanistan in the event any Rangers had to be rescued.
No reporters were present during the Ranger raid. Although the Pentagon at a Saturday news conference showed a few video clips taken by its own camera operators -- including one of Rangers parachuting onto the airfield -- it was not possible to tell how the operation was carried out.
The Taliban's official Bakhtar news agency said four helicopters landed in Kohi Baba, 20 miles northwest of Kandahar, but found the camp deserted. "The American air operation in Afghanistan has made no gain, and the helicopter operation has failed," Bakhtar said.
U.S. bombing continued Saturday at approximately the same scale as Friday. Attacking were dozens of Navy strike aircraft, several Air Force bombers and a few Air Force fighter-bombers.
On Friday about 100 aircraft attacked 15 target areas, Myers said. As has been the Pentagon's practice, Myers would not comment on current air missions but offered some details about the previous day's. He said targets Friday included air defenses and ammunition and vehicle storage areas.
Friday's Ranger raids were against two targets at separate locations, Myers said. He described Taliban resistance as light. A small weapons cache discovered in a building at the airfield was destroyed, he said. Some of the weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition, were displayed in a U.S. combat video, shot with a night-vision lens.