First U.S. Soldier Killed by Hostile Fire
The U.S. soldier was killed during a small-arms battle with hostile forces in eastern Afghanistan, said Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command Center which oversees the Afghanistan campaign.
U.S. soldiers had been “working with tribal elements” near Khost and Gardez in eastern Afghanistan on a mission to aid anti-Taliban groups in the region.
Franks described their mission as “dangerous work,” but did not disclose the number of troops stationed there or further details about the mission.
“No other military personnel were injured in this incident,” Franks said today.
Franks would not disclose the person’s name, saying the family of the deceased had not yet been contacted.
It is the first death of a U.S. soldier by enemy fire since the military campaign began on Oct. 7.
The Pentagon said that most of the large-scale fighting has ended in Afghanistan, but many regions are extremely dangerous to the approximate 4,000 U.S. troops on the ground there.
Franks said that he did not expect to deploy more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, saying the “Taliban as a coherent government is certainly out of business…and we believe that the al-Qaida…still stationed in Afghanistan is on the run.”
On Nov. 25, CIA agent Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed during a prison uprising near Mazar-e-Sharif.
The other U.S. casualties in Afghanistan occurred when a U.S. bomb mistakenly struck and killed three U.S. special forces troopers near Kandahar on Dec. 3.
U.S. airstrikes continue near Khost
The U.S. launched a second round of airstrikes over a suspected al-Qaida camp in Zawar Kili, near Khost in eastern Afghanistan, after coalition members reported that al-Qaida operatives were believed to be reorganizing there.
Franks said that the combat casualty, which also occurred near Khost, was an “unrelated incident to the bombing of the al-Qaida cave complex”.
The Afghan Information Ministry reported that nearly 1,000 al-Qaida fighters were hiding near Khost and organized in groups of 50 to 100 men.
“I think al-Qaida will be routed in one month,” said Afghan Deputy Intelligence Minister Abdullah Taweedi.
The Afghan Islamic Press today quoted a tribal chief near Khost as asking the U.S. air strikes stop, saying that Thursday’s bombing had killed at least 32 civilians.
Operations near Baghran and more arrests
Afghan interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah announced Friday that anti-Taliban forces had the ousted Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar surrounded near the city of Baghran.
Abdullah said that Omar would be arrested for terrorism, but whether he would be tried in Afghanistan or by an international tribunal “will be decided when we capture him.”
Coalition forces were collecting Taliban arms near Baghran, but could not confirm that Omar had been surrounded.
Franks reported that another 25 prisoners, primarily Afghans, arrived at the U.S. detention center near the Kandahar airport. They will later be transferred to prisons outside of Afghanistan. Roughly 250 prisoners are in U.S. custody in Kandahar.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities arrested former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salaam Zaeef in Islamabad, but authorities would not release details of his arrest.
Pakistani Minister of Planning Haji Mohammad Muhaqeq called Zaeef a criminal and a leader of the “Afghan al-Qaida”, accusing Zaeef of committing crimes against humanity while an official in the Taliban government.
Pakistan, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, recognized Afghanistan’s Taliban government until allying with the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.