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Archive for Saturday, January 5, 2002

Update: U.S. soldier killed, CIA officer wounded in Afghanistan ambush

January 5, 2002

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— An Army Special Forces soldier was killed and a CIA officer wounded when ambushed in eastern Afghanistan.

Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, 31, was the first American soldier to die from hostile fire in Afghanistan during the anti-terrorism campaign that began Oct. 7. The unidentified CIA officer was seriously wounded, U.S. officials said.

The dangerous hunt for Osama bin Laden and his allies advanced Friday as Pakistan turned over a top al-Qaida leader to the United States and prepared to hand over a key Taliban official.

Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, who ran bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, has been taken from Pakistan to a U.S. base in southern Afghanistan for questioning, American officials said.

The United States also has arranged for Pakistan to hand over the Taliban's former ambassador to that country, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said a senior defense official speaking on condition of anonymity. Pakistani authorities arrested Zaeef in Islamabad on Thursday.

Zaeef was not in U.S. custody as of Saturday morning, said Lt. Col. Martin Compton, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

Officials said Chapman, who was a communications specialist, and the CIA officer met with local tribal leaders in Afghanistan's Paktia province, near where U.S. warplanes struck several al-Qaida and Taliban targets in the past few weeks. The Americans were ambushed after the meeting, and exchanged fire with their assailants, officials said.

Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, said the attack illustrated the dangers faced by dozens of American special operations forces who are working with local Afghan fighters to coordinate the hunt for bin Laden, his al-Qaida lieutenants and senior Taliban members.

"We still have a responsibility as part of this mission to root out pockets of resisting Taliban forces, as well as to continue to work to root out groups of al-Qaida where we may find them inside Afghanistan _ dangerous work, indeed," Franks told a news conference Friday at Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

The CIA officer was evacuated from Afghanistan, but no Afghan fighters working with the Americans were taken out, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Franks said Chapman was in a U.S. team operating near the town of Khost, a few miles from the Pakistan border. U.S. warplanes attacked an al-Qaida compound near Khost on Friday for the second straight day, but Franks said the attack was unrelated to the Green Beret's death.

The compound, which included a training site, buildings and caves, was attacked amid indications al-Qaida fighters were regrouping there, perhaps preparing to slip across the border into Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

More than 300 suspected Taliban or al-Qaida members were in U.S. custody Saturday, Compton said. Soldiers were guarding 275 prisoners at the base in Kandahar, 21 at Bagram air base north of Kabul, and one in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Compton said. Another 9 prisoners, including American Taliban John Walker Lindh, are being held on the USS Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

Franks said some prisoners would be taken to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within 10 days.

Franks said he did not know bin Laden's whereabouts, although there are indications the other main target of the U.S. manhunt in Afghanistan _ Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar _ is in the vicinity of Baghran, in central Afghanistan.

The only U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan before Friday were three Green Berets mistakenly hit by a U.S. airstrike north of Kandahar on Dec. 5. Two Army Rangers were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Pakistan on Oct. 19.

On Nov. 25, CIA operative Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed when al-Qaida prisoners revolted in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

At his news conference, Franks also said:

U.S. forces have searched seven of the eight cave complexes of most interest in the mountainous Tora Bora area where some believe bin Laden had been hiding. He said many bodies were found in the caves, as well as a tank and other weapons. U.S. forensic experts are examining the corpses to try to determine if any of those killed were al-Qaida leaders.

U.S. examinations of more than 40 sites in Afghanistan suspected of involvement in developing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have turned up "considerable indication of interest and desire by al-Qaida to acquire weapons of mass destruction," but no evidence the terrorists succeeded.

Franks is working with the government of Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet republic, on arrangements for using a military base there as a transport hub for U.S. aircraft involved in the Afghanistan war.

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