CIA Officer/Afghanistan -3: Seriously Wounded -MSNBC
Dow Jones Newswires 04-01-02 2004 GMT
Saturday January 5, 4:39 AM
Ambush Was Same Incident In Which US Soldier Killed -CNN
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--A joint team of U.S. military and CIA personnel ran into an ambush in Afghanistan on Friday, leaving one U.S. soldier dead and a CIA officer wounded, the Cable News Network reported.
The death of the U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was confirmed earlier Friday by General Tommy Franks, the commander of the Afghanistan military operation.
CNN reported a senior U.S. official described the incident as an "ambush" and said the U.S. team encounted small-arms fire. The wounded Central Intelligence Agency officer was evacuated, but there was no word on his condition, the network said.
A U.S. quick-reaction force was sent to the area near the town of Khost in eastern Afghanistan and helped evacuate the U.S. team, according to the report
Elite U.S. soldier killed in Afghan firefight
Saturday January 5, 5:51 AM
TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - An elite U.S. Army soldier was killed by enemy fire in Afghanistan on Friday as the American general commanding the 90-day war praised progress there in destroying the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
The special forces soldier became the first U.S. military casualty from hostile fire in the country, although nine other U.S. troops and a CIA agent have died in and near Afghanistan as part of the war sparked by September 11 attacks on America.
A CIA agent was also wounded in Friday's exchange of fire near the town of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official in Washington.
"I guess I would say that I am, indeed, pleased with the progress that has been made over the last 90 days," Army General Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, told reporters at a briefing in Tampa.
"But I would also say that much very dangerous work remains to be done," he added, stressing that some Taliban fighters and al Qaeda cells of bin Laden remained to be rooted out in a rugged country torn by decades of war.
Franks said the death of the soldier, part of a U.S. team cooperating with tribal elements, was a reminder of the danger still facing American forces despite the overthrow of the Taliban and the capture of major cities as they pursue Taliban fighters and those of bin Laden's militant Islamic guerrillas.
PROGRESS AGAINST AL QAEDA
Washington has accused bin Laden of masterminding the well-coordinated September hijack attacks that killed more than 3,000 persons in the United States.
Franks conceded the United States did not know whether bin Laden was alive or dead or even still in Afghanistan. But he said that many al Qaeda cells had been destroyed in the country and that others had been disrupted.
He told reporters that U.S. troops had searched seven of eight al Qaeda cave complexes in the Tora Bora region of eastern Afghanistan, earlier shattered by U.S. bombing, and found "evidence of considerable loss of life there."
Searchers also found heavy weapons, including one or two tanks, inside some of the caves, Franks said.
Gardez is west of Khost, an area that was raked by U.S. bombs on Thursday and Friday. Franks and other Defense Department officials said the bombs were aimed at an al Qaeda camp outside the city of Khost where members of the guerrilla network have gone in the past to regroup.
Franks said that he as well as the American people and President George W. Bush were patient and that U.S. forces would continue to press the hunt for bin Laden and missing Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
The general said that U.S. forces had searched 40 of 48 al Qaeda camps and other sites in Afghanistan, but had not found any chemical, biological or radiation weapons despite evidence that al Qaeda was seeking such arms.
"What we have found is considerable indication of interest and desire by al Qaeda to acquire weapons of mass destruction," Franks said. "We have not yet found evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction inside Afghanistan."
U.S. B-52 bombers on Friday dropped satellite-guided bombs on an al Qaeda guerrilla base in eastern Afghanistan a day after other American warplanes attacked the site, the Pentagon said in Washington.
"The Zhawar Kili target (in Khost province) was the same one hit on Thursday" by B-1 bombers, AC-130 flying gunships and F/A-18 Navy attack jets, Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, told Reuters.
Other defense officials said six precision-guided JDAM (joint direct attack munitions) bombs were dropped on the training base, which the Pentagon said could be used as a transit point into Pakistan for fleeing leaders of the al Qaeda guerrilla movement headed by fugitive Osama bin Laden.
The attack occurred at 1 a.m. Washington time (0600 GMT), mid-morning in Afghanistan, where Afghan and U.S. military forces continued the search for bin Laden and Omar, supreme leader of the country's deposed Taliban rulers.
Reports from the region said anti-Taliban forces have been negotiating for the surrender of as many as 1,500 trapped Taliban in the area. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Thursday Washington would accept no deal that allowed Mullah Omar or other Taliban or al Qaeda leaders to go free.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said on Friday the U.S. military in Afghanistan now had control of 273 al Qaeda and Taliban captives, including eight aboard the Navy warship Bataan in the Indian Ocean.
Franks said some of the detainees would begin being moved within a week or 10 days to a high-security jail being built at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
By Jeremy Page and Charles Aldinger
Saturday January 5, 5:43 AM
KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghan and U.S. forces were believed closing in on fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar on Friday, while a U.S. special forces soldier was killed in eastern Afghanistan -- the first American military casualty killed by enemy fire in the three-month war.
U.S. ground troops, working closely with Afghan fighters, conducted house-to-house searches around Baghran in the south, where Kabul officials said they were fairly certain Mullah Omar, leader of the ousted Taliban, was hiding.
But Afghan and U.S. officials dismissed reports that Omar, who lost control of his stronghold at Kandahar a month ago, had already been captured. He is believed to be in the mountainous region of Baghran, 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Kandahar.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Army special forces soldier was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan, the general commanding the U.S. mission said.
"We had a special forces member killed earlier today by small arms fire," Army General Tommy Franks, the regional commander in charge of U.S. forces operating in Afghanistan. He said the incident took place near the town of Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan.
Gardez is the capital of Paktia province, not far from the Tora Bora region of caves and tunnels that Washington believes were used as a hide-out by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born fugitive the United States holds responsible for the September 11 hijack attacks on America.
Franks said he would not release the soldier's name because his family had not yet been notified. He said no other U.S. military were hurt during the incident.
However, a CIA officer was wounded by hostile fire in the same incident and was getting medical treatment, said a U.S. official who requested anonymity. His condition was serious but the prognosis was good, the official said.
DANGER LURKS, U.S. SAYS
The death was a reminder of the danger still facing U.S. forces, despite the overthrow of the Taliban and the capture of major cities, as they pursue Taliban fighters and those of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda movement, Franks told a news briefing at his headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
Meanwhile, close to the Pakistani border in the east where bin Laden was last sighted, B-52s dropped satellite-guided bombs on a compound the Pentagon says was being used as a base by his al Qaeda network.
The hunt for Mullah Omar was hot but not over yet, officials said. "I don't think he's been captured yet. If he has been captured I would know it," Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai told the U.S. television network ABC. He promised to hand him over to Washington if and when he was taken.
Karzai's foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, sounded confident the elusive Muslim cleric was close to capture.
"An area is under siege. Already there have been reports that Mullah Omar is in that area. It is very likely he is there," he said in Kabul.
"He is a war criminal. He has committed crimes against humanity. There is a possibility that he will be tried in an international tribunal."
REPORTS OF CAPTURE
Earlier, Afghanistan's Minister for Reconstruction told Germany's ARD television he believed Omar had been captured. Australia's ABC television said it had heard the same from a senior official of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.
U.S. military officials denied knowledge of it.
Omar, who imposed his strict vision of Islam on Afghanistan for five years, sheltered Saudi-born militant bin Laden, earning the wrath of the United States and leading to his downfall.
U.S. officials want to try the cleric and have put a bounty on his head. Karzai, although eager to assert his independence of his international backers, promised to hand him over. "He's a criminal of an international standard and he should be delivered if the U.S. wants him ... to the United States," he told ABC.
Bin Laden has also disappeared since the collapse of the Taliban regime in the face of weeks of intensive U.S. bombing.
Karzai said he believed bin Laden was still alive and pledged to hand him over for trial if he, too, were captured.
Afghan officials say Mullah Omar, 42, who lost an eye fighting the Soviets in the 1980s, may be protected by as many as 1,000 fighters in the mountains. Afghan officials in Kandahar are trying to negotiate a bloodless surrender, although Washington has made clear Omar must not go free.
NEW AIR STRIKE
With the United States making the hunt for fugitives the focus of its war effort, the Pentagon confirmed a second air strike in two days on a suspected guerrilla base at Zhawar Kili, in Khost province. Six precision-guided JDAM bombs were dropped by B-52s.
"There was some activity. So they went in and hit it again," Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said at least two people were wounded at Zhawar, but their identity was not clear. Claim and counter-claim about civilian casualties has caused friction between Washington and Karzai's government.
Frightened refugees were still fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan as conditions in the east of the country deteriorate, a U.N. spokeswoman said. Instability in southern Afghanistan was also endangering civilians and aid workers.
In Kabul, the government formally signed a deal forming an international security force with British General John McColl.
"We hope that this signature will bring to Afghanistan the stability and peace that we needed for so many years," Prime Minister Karzai said at the signing ceremony.
McColl, leader of the U.N.-backed International Security Assistance Force, said its six-month mandate may be extended.
Twelve nations are to contribute troops to the ISAF, which should swell to 4,500 troops in the coming weeks and begin patrols in mid-January. About 500 French paratroopers and Marines will head out Sunday, a French military source said.
U.S. defence officials declined to confirm or deny a Washington Post report that American and allied surveillance aircraft had sharply increased their watch over Somalia and waters around the east African country to make sure bin Laden or other al Qaeda fighters did not seek refuge there.
The Pentagon's Clarke said: "Since September 11, we have increased surveillance, we have increased intelligence gathering around the world. We are trying to prevent more attacks."
Meanwhile in New York, a woman who led rescue workers on a wild goose chase through the rubble of the World Trade Center for fictitious victims has pleaded guilty to endangering the lives of recovery personnel, prosecutors said on Friday.
Sugeil Mejia, 24, of Union City, New Jersey, who entered her plea on Thursday in New York State criminal court, faces up to three years in prison when she is sentenced January 23.
Mejia, also known as Sugeil McCreary, admitted she had fabricated a story that her husband, whom she said was a police officer, and 10 colleagues had contacted her by cell phone from the depths of the rubble several days after the September 11 attack.
Authorities have moved swiftly to prosecute people found to have made false claims following the attacks that destroyed the twin towers and killed nearly 3,000 people.
US launch air raids as ex-Taliban members reported ready to hand over Omar
Friday January 4, 3:31 PM AFP
US warplanes mounted their first raid on Afghanistan in days, as Taliban fugitives were said to be ready to hand over leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in exchange for an end to the bombing.
And in Washington, a top US aid official said that a huge international aid drive that coincided with the military operation in Afghanistan headed off a major famine in the region.
US B-1 bombers, F/A-18 fighter jets and AC-130 gunships hit a sprawling Taliban stronghold and al-Qaeda training camp in eastern Afghanistan, US officials said Thursday.
"There was activity that warranted it be hit," said General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking at the Pentagon.
US bombs fell on a site in Khost province, near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, described as an extensive leadership facility consisting of a base camp, training facility and caves. The compound had been struck before in a 1998 US cruise missile attack, Myers said.
It was the first US air strike since December 28, and follows a pattern of selective strikes aimed at Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders who have been on the run since the fall of Kandahar last month.
In Afghanistan, Taliban commander Abdul Ahad, also known as Rayes Baghran (chief of Baghran), pledged to hand Omar over in exchange for a halt to the bombing, according to Nasratullah Nasrat of the Kandahar provincial intelligence service.
Rayes Baghran's 1,500 followers in Helmand province, east of Kandahar, would also lay down their weapons as part of the deal, he said, adding that the offer was made after a three-day "shura" -- a meeting of tribal elders -- in Helmand.
However US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied there was a surrender deal.
"It hasn't been made," he said Thursday. "And I've already said what we would accept. We will accept surrender."
The report came as a force of 800 Afghan troops swept through the Chapparhar district of eastern Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan, in a mopping up operation in quest of al-Qaeda stragglers.
In Washington, a top US aid official said Thursday said that a major famine was prevented by prompt foreign aid.
"It appears from the data we've collected ... that we have averted widespread famine in Afghanistan," said Andrew Natsios, top administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Natasios, who described it as a "major accomplishment," congratulated international groups such as the World Food Program that distributed most of the food, and the non-governmental organizations "that did the distribution from the interior warehouses to the remote villages and to the cities."
Natsios also congratulated Afghan staff who kept working in Afghanistan, often after foreign staff had left the country.
"(It) is a very hopeful sign that the people who, in fact, saved Afghanistan -- even though we provided the assistance -- were the Afghan people themselves, the people who worked for the NGOs for the last 20 years," Natsios said.
Around 200,000 tonnes of food aid was delivered by the UN World Food Program during the last three months of 2001 -- two thirds of which was provided by the United States, Natsios said.
But despite an upbeat assessment, Natsios said some remote mountainous areas of Afghanistan were still causing concern.
Natsios also announced that Washington is handing out some 30,000 radios for Afghans to hear bulletins on food aid distribution, health and security, and to pick up foreign news broadcasts.
The 1.7 million dollar program will hand out the sets to community groups, teachers, municipal workers and hospitals, he said.
Daily bulletins written under the project in native languages Pashtu and Dari detailing food distribution, security and other issues are being beamed into the country on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) broadcasts.
Meanwhile tensions between India and Pakistan, an offshoot of the 12-week-old Afghan war, continued to simmer although the two countries appeared to have stepped back from the brink of war ahead of a South Asian summit in Kathmandu.
"We feel that the diplomatic initiative is going on the right track," Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan spoke by telephone Thursday, agreeing that the two countries should find a peaceful solution to their dispute, the New China News Agency reported.
In Islamabad, Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, was taken from his residence for questioning by Pakistani security officials, his family said.
Newspaper reports said Zaeef had applied for political asylum in Pakistan, but his request was refused.
In Hamburg, Afghan minister for reconstruction Mohammed Amin Farhang said in a television interview that he heard that Omar had been arrested. The minister, however, offered few details.
The White House meanwhile confirmed Thursday that Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, was expected to meet President George W. Bush at the White House.
"Mr. Karzai wants to say 'thank you' to the American people," said an Afghan spokesman in Washington, adding that the visit was fixed for February.
The last visit to Washington by an Afghan leader was in 1963, when King Mohammed Zahir Shah visited John F. Kennedy
British Prime Minister Tony Blair began the second day of a hectic South Asian tour here, after Bangladesh said it was willing to consider joining the UN-mandated international peacekeeping force in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
Officials said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia told Blair immediately after his arrival on Thursday that Dhaka could "contemplate a role" under the UN in Afghanistan. No further details were given.
Before arriving in Dhaka, Blair said he would encourage Bangladesh to take part in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which will operate under the command of Britain's Major General John McColl.
"We would like to see it, as part of any future stabilisation force in Afghanistan," Blair told reporters on his plane.
Besides talks with Zia, Blair also met President Badruddoza Chowdhury.
On Friday, Blair was due to visit the National Memorial to those who died in Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence, as well as a nearby model village.
He is also scheduled to meet opposition leaders before leaving Dhaka for the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
Blair will hold official talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi on Sunday, during which he is expected to appeal for a reduction of military tensions on the border with Pakistan.
The prime minister is expected to fly to Pakistan on Monday.
Friday January 4, 1:33 PM AFP
CANBERRA, Jan 4 Asia Pulse - Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has defended the pace of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan after Labor claimed almost half had not been delivered three months after promised.
Opposition acting foreign affairs spokesman Wayne Swan said the arrival of winter snows in the war-torn sheeted home the need for Australia to speed up its delivery of aid.
Mr Swan said that by the end of December, the government had allocated only $13.3 million of $23.3 million committed to humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people.
He said 43 per cent of the funds remained unallocated more than three months after the aid was announced by Mr Downer.
"No one should underestimate the severity of the humanitarian crisis as winter snows fall in Afghanistan," Mr Swan said.
"As reported in today's newspapers, more than 100 people a day are dying of exposure and starvation in one refugee camp alone."
A spokesman for Mr Downer said Australia's contribution to humanitarian relief in Afghanistan had been timely, appropriate and well-received by the international community.
"Allocation of remaining funds is currently being finalised and further assistance will be considered in the context of an assessment being carried out for a meeting of international donors to be held in Tokyo this month," the spokesman told AAP.
"Australia's assistance has been provided through a range of international agencies and Australian non-government aid agencies to good effect."
The spokesman said the government recently announced a contribution to the establishment of the interim government in Afghanistan.
"Australia has also provided a person to work with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs," he said.
Mr Swan also called on the government to respond to a report on the crisis by opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd in which he recommended more funding for demining projects and an increase in aid from $US5.9 million to $US18.9 million.
Friday January 4, 6:32 PM
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan attend a rescheduled regional summit in Nepal on Saturday morning as their armies trade fire across their border in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in a standoff causing concern around the world.
The start of the meeting has been delayed after bad weather held up Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf's flight from China, a delegation official said.
But neither side held out much hope Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would talk peace on the sidelines of the meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
"I'm not here to conduct India-Pakistan relations," Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh told a news conference on Thursday. "We have no request or information that they want to meet us."
But Musharraf, who arrived in Kathmandu late on Friday afternoon, said during a stopover in China he was willing to solve the dispute through talks -- even as the two opposing armies traded more gunfire in Kashmir overnight.
The SAARC summit itself, essentially an economic meeting, has been repeatedly postponed because of tensions between the regional heavyweights, whose leaders have not met since a failed summit in July.
India and Pakistan, who staged tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998, have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 -- two of them over Kashmir.
Foreign leaders say another war would both destabilise the region and undermine the hunt for the remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
U.S. President George Bush is considering sending a senior official to the region to press for talks between the two sides, U.S. officials and diplomatic sources in Washington say.
A senior U.S. official told Reuters the administration was close to a decision, adding it expected Musharraf to take further steps to crack down on anti-Indian militants in his country.
The latest standoff follows a December 13 suicide attack on India's parliament. India blames Pakistan-based Islamic militants fighting its rule in Jammu and Kashmir, its only Muslim-majority state.
On Thursday, Singh released a list of requests India has made over the past decade for Pakistan to hand over those charged with carrying out acts of terror.
These include those India blames for the December 13 attack that killed 14, including the five assailants.
Musharraf, who was the last leader to arrive in Nepal, says root causes of terrorism must be addressed, and that the seven-nation SAARC must find a way to deal with contentious issues between member countries.
"In our opinion talking to each other about contentious issues is much better than refusing to discuss them," Musharraf said in a written answer to Nepal's state-run Rashtriya Samachar Samiti news agency.
Pakistan has long demanded implementation of a 1948 U.N. resolution seeking a plebiscite on the future of Kashmir.
India says all of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of its territory and accuses Pakistan of fomenting a bloody 12-year-old revolt there.
It accuses Pakistan's intelligence agency of involvement in the parliament attack, which it described as an attempt to wipe out India's entire political leadership. Pakistan denies involvement and has asked India for evidence.
The military buildup on their border is the biggest since Indian exercises in 1987. India has said all options are open if Pakistan does not stop what it calls "cross border terrorism".
The two sides have traded fire repeatedly across the line of control dividing Pakistani and Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan reported fresh mortar and artillery exchanges overnight. No casualties were reported in the latest clash.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, due to visit India and Pakistan, warned of "enormous problems" for global stability if the situation got out of hand. The White House says Blair will try to nudge the two sides towards talks.
Speaking in Bangladesh at the start of his tour, Blair said he would try to exert a calming influence. "It's extremely important given the military capability of both powers that we do everything we can to calm the situation," he added.
The SAARC conference begins on Saturday with speeches by the heads of the seven states that make up the grouping.
The other members are Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bhutan. The leaders are to hold a retreat on Saturday at a hill station outside Kathmandu.
Officials say Taliban surrender deal is close
By Jim Drinkard, USA TODAY
Local officials in southern Afghanistan said Thursday that they were near a deal that would require 1,500 holdout Taliban troops to lay down their arms and surrender along with their leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. The fighters have taken refuge in a mountainous area near Baghran in Helmand province and were seeking a peaceful way out of their standoff with local anti-Taliban forces. U.S. officials have expressed skepticism that Omar will give himself up. They say the surrender talks may be a smokescreen to allow the Taliban leader to escape. Reports on the negotiations were sketchy and contradictory. One provincial official, Haji Pir Mohammad, told Reuters that the talks were aimed at securing the surrender of a warlord who controls Baghran, but that Omar's whereabouts were unknown
But Nusrat Ullah, an intelligence official in the southern city of Kandahar, told the Associated Press that the discussions were near a breakthrough that could lead to Omar's capture.
This week, some Afghan officials said terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and fighters from his al-Qaeda network might also be hunkered down near Baghran. There was no new word Thursday on bin Laden's whereabouts.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld characterized the talks on Omar as a confusing welter of discussions among many different parties. The United States "is not authorizing pauses or negotiations which would result in freeing people who ought not to be freed," including terrorists or those who sheltered them, he said.
In Pakistan, another senior Taliban official, former ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef, was arrested Thursday, according to his nephew, Hamid Ullah. There was no immediate comment on the arrest from Pakistani officials.
In other developments:
Afghanistan's 2-week-old interim government released 320 Taliban fighters taken prisoner over the past five years by the opposition Northern Alliance. The Red Cross gave each the equivalent of $20 to get from the capital, Kabul, back to their homes.
The government called it a gesture of reconciliation after three months of fighting to oust the Taliban from power, and said more releases would follow.
Hamid Karzai, leader of the interim government, planned a trip to the United States as early as next month to thank Americans for their support. The trip likely will include a meeting with President Bush at the White House and a U.S. commitment of $400 million to the first year of a reconstruction effort.
After several days without airstrikes, U.S. warplanes attacked a former stronghold of the al-Qaeda terrorist network Thursday in Afghanistan's Paktia province, near the border with Pakistan. The United Nations said it had reliable information that U.S. bombing last week in the same region had mistakenly killed 52 civilians. That contradicts U.S. officials who said they struck only military targets.
Rumsfeld said secure facilities are being built at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to house some al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who will be sent from Afghanistan.
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