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Background: Military Campaign

December 5, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Rescue helicopters for the Americans killed and wounded by the errant U.S. bomb arrived at base Rhino, the rapidly growing Marine encampment near Kandahar near southern Afghanistan. News organizations said they weren’t allowed to view the helicopters unloading. The deaths of three Special Forces soldiers bring to four the U.S. combat toll since the Afghan war began October 7. Killed with the Americans were five anti-Taliban fighters. 20 of them who were injured also were treated at Base Rhino, according to a Marine spokesman. An investigation is under way to determine how the friendly fire incident occurred, according to Rear Admiral Stuffelbeem, who briefed reporters today.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: Here’s what we can stay about what we know so far. There was a forward air controller who called in a close air support mission, a B-52 responded with JDAM munitions. One of those JDAM weapons landed somewhere in the vicinity of 100 meters of where our troops were at, and that’s what has obviously caused the casualties and injuries. This mission was called in due to the fighting that was occurring between opposition groups and those Taliban forces that were dug in. This is north of Kandahar. The rest of this, in terms of how that weapon managed to not fall where the troops intended it to, is under investigation, and it’s going to take a few days to try to find out why that happened.

KWAME HOLMAN: The JDAM, or Joint Direct Attack Munition, is a satellite-guided 2,000-pound bomb. Originally a simple gravity bomb, it has been adapted to seek coordinates provided by a global positioning satellite. Stufflebeem explained how it’s used in close air support.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: A forward air controller on the ground who has the perspective of what is occurring there to cause them to want that support, either they’re under heavy fire or they wish to achieve some condition and can see where it is they wish to have the heavy munitions dropped. They determine those coordinates, they contact the aircraft on the radio, they pass the coordinates of where they are located, they pass the coordinates of where they wish the weapons to be placed and when they wish to have the weapons dropped. That then is a procedure that is turned around in the cockpit of the aircrew– aircraft. The aircrew will respond if they are not able to achieve those conditions, either in locations or time or anything else that they don’t quite understand. But once they’ve got that, they’ll move as quickly and as precisely as they possibly can to meet that time. It’s a time-sensitive targeting process.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, parts of Kandahar, the last stronghold of the Taliban militia, sat in ruins as American B-52s continued heavy bombing runs. This man said, “it is raining bombs over us, on our houses, everywhere.” Admiral Stufflebeem described today’s activities there.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: A Marine element, along with coalition forces, continue patrols in the vicinity of Kandahar, interdicting lines of communications. And as of this hour, they have not had any engagements with Taliban or al-Qaida forces.

REPORTER: Admiral, to what extent do you think the Taliban are actually being flushed out of their hiding places? Are they on the run, in the open?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: Well, certainly around Kandahar, we’re seeing reports of Taliban digging in, building or erecting defensive positions. They are also on the run, and this strike that we showed the video of is where Taliban were intending to take refuge when that strike was called onto those facilities.

KWAME HOLMAN: Near Jalalabad, in the mountains south of the city, an intensified search for Osama bin Laden continued today. A thousand Afghan opposition fighters reportedly are combing the White Mountains, searching the network of caves and hideouts for bin Laden and his allies. Anti-Taliban forces positioned their tanks above the village of Tora Bora to shell the hilltops two miles away.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN STUFFLEBEEM: Well, they are trying to determine locations of al-Qaida, and specifically al-Qaida leadership and remaining Taliban that might be in the area. The reports from that region are… Is that many of these forces may have or have taken up refuge in caves and tunnels. So we are working to determine where these bad guys are and then to bring strikes on them.

KWAME HOLMAN: An anti-Taliban leader in the eastern mountains said his forces are meeting stiff resistance, perhaps because escape routes into Pakistan have been cut off.