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Pentagon: Cannon-firing airplane used over Kandahar

Airstrikes continue; Powell arrives in Pakistan

Kandahar hospital
A patient in the only hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What people in Kandahar thought was a helicopter assault late Monday in Afghanistan was a punishing attack from an AC-130 "Spectre" gunship, a senior Pentagon source said Monday.

The specially modified C-130 airplane is based at the U.S. Air Force's special operations base at Hurlburt Field, Florida, the source said Monday night. Depending on the model used in the attack, the AC-130 had either a 40mm cannon or 105mm cannon. Others are equipped with a 25mm gun.

Sources in Kandahar also reported hearing return gunfire from the ground late Monday. They said they heard firing from small arms and automatic weapons.

The attack started around 11:30 p.m. (3 p.m. EDT) and lasted about 20 minutes, said sources. They characterized the noise above as sounding like helicopters.

When queried about helicopter attacks, Pentagon officials said none had been planned for that day.

Officials have said repeatedly, however, that there could be "invisible" missions that would not be announced or even acknowledged after the fact.

Such missions by special operations forces could include clandestine helicopter raids that would not be in the daily bombing orders, the officials said.

The AC-130 is a fixed-wing aircraft first used in Vietnam for close air support of ground troops.

It was last used in 1993 when an AC-130 leveled the house of Mohammed Farah Aidid during a manhunt for the Somali faction leader.

The gunship's attack on Kandahar followed a day of aerial pounding from U.S. warplanes, which also targeted the capital city of Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Witnesses said the attacks appeared to be one of the heaviest daytime raids since the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan began last week.

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