Wounded U.S. soldiers stable

Friday, March 8, 2002

LANDSTUHL, Germany -- Nine U.S. special forces troops wounded in Afghanistan and brought to Germany for treatment are in stable condition, most suffering from bullet or shrapnel wounds to their arms and legs, a military surgeon said Thursday.

Peacekeepers hurt

Also, eight international peacekeepers who were injured in an explosion of anti-aircraft missiles they were trying to defuse arrived in Europe on Thursday for treatment.

Meanwhile their comrades mourned the deaths of five of their troops in the missile accident.

The nine U.S. soldiers were brought to the U.S. military's Landstuhl Medical Center late Wednesday, and in the first update on their condition, Maj. Mark Ervin said they were not expected to require further surgery.

"They're doing very well, considering what they've been through," said Lt. Melanie Sparks, a nurse at Landstuhl.

Three of the soldiers were able to walk, and most of the seven will likely return to the United States within a week, Ervin told reporters at the hospital.

The Americans -- seven Army and two Navy -- could not be identified, and officials would not reveal what missions they were on when wounded. Ervin said they had all been injured in the past three days.

Stiff resistance

At least 40 Americans have been injured in a U.S.-led assault on al-Qaida fighters holed up in eastern Afghanistan, who have put up stiff resistance in six days of fighting.

Another flight with as many as 16 injured troops was expected to arrive at nearby Ramstein Air Base later Thursday.

Also brought to Landstuhl on Wednesday's flight was Canadian journalist Kathleen Kenna, who has been unconscious since shortly after a grenade was hurled into her car while she was traveling toward the scene of the fighting Tuesday. Kenna, 48, a reporter for the Toronto Star, had suffered serious flesh wounds, Ervin said.

The five Germans and three Danes injured in Wednesday's missile explosion arrived in Cologne on a German air force plane after a flight from Kabul, the Afghan capital. Two of the Danes were flown on to Copenhagen, while the injured Germans and the other Dane were transferred by helicopter to a military hospital in Koblenz. Some walked to the waiting aircraft, while others were carried on stretchers.

A team of 10 experts and advisers from Germany and Denmark were being sent to Kabul to investigate the cause of the blast, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said Thursday.

The three Germans and two Danes killed in the accident were the first dead among the peacekeeping force deployed in December. Their bodies were to be flown home Thursday or Friday.

"Our thoughts are with the families and the relatives," Capt. Graham Dunlop, spokesman for the 4,500-strong international force, said in Kabul. German peacekeepers planned a moment of silence for the dead Thursday.

The soldiers were attempting to destroy two Russian-made SA-3 ground-to-air missiles with a controlled explosion at a munitions collection point about three miles from the German military's base in Kabul.

Dunlop said the casualty figure was high because the missiles "are quite large and their explosion has an impact over a large area." Also, no explosives had been attached to them in preparation for their destruction, so more soldiers may have felt free to come close to the missiles.

Officials said that according to witnesses, the explosion was caused by a technical problem, not because it was detonated prematurely.

The Danish and German leaders said the accident did not change their countries' commitment to the war against terror and the peacekeeping mission.

Germany's decision last November to offer 3,900 soldiers for the U.S.-led war on terrorism was preceded by a wrenching national debate over the most far-reaching deployment since World War II.

More than 700 German soldiers are part of the international security force deployed in and around the Afghan capital. About 50 Danish soldiers specialized in mine clearing were sent to Afghanistan in January.

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