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Afghanistan Military Update: The Death of the First American

January 4, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: At his headquarters in Tampa, Florida, the commander of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, had only fragmentary information about the firefight that caused the first U.S. death by enemy fire.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: What we know right now is that the mission that he was on as a part of a team was to coordinate with some local tribal elements in the vicinity of Gardez – in order to facilitate cooperation between our forces in the region and the local tribal elements in that region. The specifics of the incident that caused the loss of life have not been fully developed yet, and so I’ll hold those until we’re a bit more sure of what happened. Were bad guys shot or were terrorists shot as a part of this small-arms exchange that took the life of one of our people? I simply don’t know. I know that there was an exchange of fire. I don’t know if any of the bad guys were killed or wounded in that action.

TERENCE SMITH: So far, six other Americans have died from friendly fire or other accidents in the military operation. Meanwhile in Afghanistan, confusion continued today as to the whereabouts of Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. Afghanistan’s foreign minister said Mullah Omar may be trapped near the southern city of Baghran.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Interim Foreign Minister, Afghanistan: He is somewhere in southern Afghanistan. There are reports that he had been under siege, and the area is under siege already. But there have been reports that Mullah Omar is in that area but that situation will be clear today or the day after tomorrow.

TERENCE SMITH: Nonetheless, Prime Minister Hamid Karzai said in a television interview he didn’t think Omar had been found.

HAMID KARZAI, Interim Prime Minister, Afghanistan: I don’t have exact information about Mullah Omar’s arrest or capture. I spoke to the local commander of the province last night at about 11:00 PM. He informed me of the activities there, of the movement around the area where we presume Mullah Omar could be – also about the surrender of the local Taliban man who lives there. And we are looking for him, for Mullah Omar, and the surrender of the Taliban is continuing.

TERENCE SMITH: General Franks conceded that U.S. forces don’t know where either Omar or Osama bin Laden is, but he confirmed that some Taliban troops near Baghran have given up their weapons.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: There has been some discussion of surrender of a remaining pocket of Taliban up in that area. This coincides with information which we have also received, which indicates the possibility– and I think you have all seen the reporting– that Omar and perhaps some of his leadership may be up in this area. And so the action that’s going on up there right now, as a matter of fact, is the collecting of arms from these people who, in fact, have crossed over or turned themselves in to the forces up north of Kandahar. And so we’re interested in activities in that area, and so that sort of is where we stand, where we stand today on Omar. But I’ll reinforce the point by saying either inside Afghanistan or as he attempts to leave Afghanistan or in someplace else we certainly will get him, Omar.

TERENCE SMITH: Franks said U.S Special Forces have searched seven out of eight cave complexes in the Tora Bora area.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: What we have found as we have gotten into these complexes is evidence of considerable loss of life, obviously, in there. We have found intelligence information that indicates that al-Qaida was in fact using that very heavily in that area. We have found larger weapons. In some cases we have found, I think, one or two tanks in some of these cave areas. We have found large quantities of ammunition. And the specifics of exactly what the intelligence take from this area looks like, I think I’ll stay away from.

TERENCE SMITH: The General was also asked about reports that U.S. aircraft are flying surveillance flights over Somalia looking for evidence of terrorists.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS: What we’re interested in doing is looking at all the places where we believe we may see terrorist organizations of the type we’re interested in– that being those with global reach– being harbored. And so, as we… as we identify that, we go to work with intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance, and so forth. Somalia, as a failed state, is an area where we believe in the past, certainly, there has been some terrorist activity, and I think we’ll take a hard look at it to be sure that that’s not the case today. And if that becomes the case, then we’ll look at it the same way we look at other harbors for terrorists globally.

TERENCE SMITH: General Franks said he believed that some al-Qaida forces may have escaped from Afghanistan and sought refuge in Somalia or other countries.