Ambush injures 5 U.S. soldiers

Sunday, July 28, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Five American soldiers were injured and two Afghan militiamen were killed Saturday in a 4 1/2-hour gun battle in eastern Afghanistan during a search for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters believed holed up in the lawless region.

At least three of those who opened fire on the U.S. and Afghan troops from a mud-brick compound also were killed, said Col. Roger King, military spokesman at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. One attacker was wounded and is now in U.S. custody.

It was the fifth time U.S. forces have been attacked since hostility against them rose sharply after a U.S. air strike July 1 that Afghan officials say killed 25 people at a village wedding party.

The wounded soldiers were flown to Bagram. Four of them, wounded early in the attack, had injuries that were not life-threatening. The condition of the fifth, wounded late in the gunfight, was not immediately known.

Difficult terrain

The Khost region, about 90 miles southeast of Kabul, the capital, is regarded as one of the most insecure areas of Afghanistan and forces of the U.S.-led coalition have repeatedly conducted operations there aimed at flushing out holdouts of the Taliban and al-Qaida.

It is exceptionally difficult terrain, where soldiers clamber among arid, steep mountains that provide an array of hiding places for fugitives and perches for snipers. Mud houses cling to slopes above the passable byways.

King said about 50 U.S. soldiers and allied Afghan militia came under small-arms fire about 1 p.m.

Special Forces and conventional troops were flown to the fight after the ambush, putting a total of about 100 troops on the ground, King said.

The injured soldiers' names were not released pending notification of relatives.

King said a team was continuing reconnaissance in the area.

"It suggests that we're facing a committed enemy," King said. "It suggests what we've tried to say all along, that this is not a quick fix, it's not going to be over tomorrow. It will be a long drawn-out campaign. ...

"We are doing a lot of our operations in there because of its proximity to the border, because of the history of the area and its connection to the people we are looking for," King said. "Those things work together to make the border region a focal point."

Afghan anger against the United States has risen since the July 1 air strike that Afghans say killed 48 people -- 25 of them celebrating a wedding -- and wounded 117 in Uruzgan, in the center of the country.

U.S. officials say they believe civilians were killed, but have not said how many. Officials say the attack was provoked by persistent anti-aircraft fire from sites in the village. The military is investigating the incident.

Since then, U.S. troops have come under fire five times.

On July 13, a U.S. convoy was attacked while traveling along a road between Bagram and Kabul. No one was injured.

Two days earlier, a U.S. Special Forces compound near Kandahar was hit by grenades and small arms. Again, there were no injuries.

In a separate incident the same day, a U.S. soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division suffered a concussion when a bullet struck his helmet while on patrol near Kandahar.

On July 2, a U.S. military convoy was fired on as it returned from the hospital in Kandahar where Afghan victims of the U.S. air strike were being treated. One soldier was shot in the foot.

Fifteen U.S. servicemen have been killed in combat or hostile situations in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign began last autumn. The most recent fatality occurred May 19.

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