Associated Press WriterWASHINGTON (AP) -- About 500 U.S. Marines have taken an airstrip in southern Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday. It was the first major seizure of Afghan territory by American ground forces in the war against terrorism.
The first wave of Marines seized the airfield near Kandahar and encountered no immediate resistance, said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.
"There were no difficulties," Clarke said. Their mission is to establish a forward operating base, she said, declining to further explain their operation except to say the U.S. forces would apply pressure to Taliban militia forces and the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.
The first wave of U.S. troops was ferried in by helicopter, while follow-on forces were being flown in on C-130 transport plans from an unidentified land base, she said.
The troop movement was expected to take at least another day to complete and more than 1,000 Marines were involved, Clarke said.
A Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the effort as "a classic airfield seizure."
Meanwhile, Clarke said five U.S. military men were injured in a "friendly fire" incident near Mazar-e-Sharif when a U.S. JDAM smart bomb went off-target. None of the injuries were life-threatening. Three of the injured were removed to Uzbekistan and the other two remained in Afghanistan.
The Marine incursion shifted American involvement in Afghanistan war onto a new plain after weeks dominated by U.S. bombing in support of forces opposing Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had said U.S. ground forces would be needed to "crawl around on the ground and find people," in the effort to topple the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network of Osama bin Laden.
About 1,000 Marines were expected to take part in establishing the initial ground base at the Kandahar airfield.
The first wave numbered in the low hundreds, and plans called for several hundred more to arrive from Marine amphibious warships in the Arabian Sea, a senior defense official said Sunday night.
The Marines are part of the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units. The 15th is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the 26th is from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Such units have undergone special training to conduct both special operations and ground combat missions, according to information supplied by the Marine Corps.
Such missions can include the seizure and recovery of selected personnel, as well as reconnaissance operations, military operations in urban terrain and sniper operations.
The official would not discuss the Marines' intended mission, except to say they would perform a variety of functions. Kandahar is the last major Taliban holdout against opposition uprisings throughout Afghanistan.