U.S. forces under fire in Pakistan; rocket attack misses target

Thursday, May 2, 2002

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A nighttime rocket attack apparently aimed at a building where U.S. special forces were sleeping missed its target early Wednesday and no one was injured. It was the first time U.S. forces have come under fire in the hostile border region of Pakistan since they began operations in recent weeks.

It wasn't clear who fired the rocket, but local residents found pamphlets in the morning saying Pakistan's rulers had "challenged the faith and Islamic honor ... by bringing American commandos" to the area.

A local official in the northwestern Pakistani town of Miram Shah, where the attack happened, said the rocket apparently came from a hilly area to the north -- on the Afghan side of the border, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the U.S. Central Command in Florida, Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Compton said officials were unaware of the incident.

That area of Pakistan has been a stronghold of support for Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born fugitive who heads al-Qaida. Hardline Islamic groups still support Afghanistan's ousted Taliban and have expressed outrage at the arrival of Americans on their turf -- a place where Pakistan's own army treads lightly.

Build-up of troops

Just across the border in Afghanistan, a buildup of multinational forces raised the possibility of a new major thrust against remaining al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. Several hundred Afghans, Australians, British and soldiers from the United States' 101st Airborne Division were deploying along the border for missions aimed at finding enemy fighters, Pentagon officials said in Washington.

U.S. special forces working with Pakistani troops on the other side of the border would be in position to try to catch any fleeing or regrouping in Pakistan. They could also try and keep enemy fighters from returning to Afghanistan.

"They do have it in mind that they would like to return," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a press conference in Washington Wednesday. "And they do have it in mind that they'd like to destabilize, and if possible defeat, the interim Afghan authority."

Locals in Miram Shah said the rocket aimed at the sleeping Americans hit a building about 300 yards away, damaging a wall and windows. The building was empty and no one was hurt, the local official said.

Residents of Miram Shah woke Wednesday morning to find pamphlets left around town, signed by a previously unknown group called Mujahedeen of North Waziristan -- the tribal region of which Miram Shah is the center.

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