U.S. paratroops raid Omar compound near Kandahar
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. forces searched a compound used by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in their first paratroop assault since the 1989 invasion of Panama, the Pentagon said Saturday.
The operation inside Afghanistan by more than 100 members of the U.S. Army Rangers is the first acknowledged ground action of the anti-terrorist campaign that began October 7. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the targets were chosen because of their value to U.S. intelligence.
The raid "shows we are capable of, at a time of our choosing, conducting the type of operations we want to conduct," Myers said.
"We gathered some intelligence, which we're evaluating," he said. "We gathered up some intelligence, some items, and we're going to evaluate that."
U.S. forces jumped into Afghanistan late Friday "without significant interference from Taliban forces," Myers said. Two paratroopers were injured during the nighttime jump, but neither suffered life-threatening injuries. However, two U.S. troops died in the crash of a search-and-rescue helicopter in Pakistan, he said.
The paratroops left behind a calling card: printed fliers with the caption "Freedom Endures" over a photograph of firefighters raising an American flag in the World Trade Center ruins.
The command-and-control center targeted outside Kandahar was "one of the locations where Omar lives," Myers said, but "We did not expect to find significant Taliban leadership at these positions." He said the troops inflicted some casualties on Taliban forces, but he did not know how many.
Myers said the airfield seized was also an intelligence-gathering target but did not disclose its location except to describe it as "southern Afghanistan." U.S. troops also found and destroyed a small cache of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and a machine gun and ammunition, he said.
CNN sources in Kandahar said the raid began about 11 p.m. (2:30 p.m. EDT) Friday with attacks by AC-130 gunships that intensified around midnight. The sources said they heard five low-flying helicopters and an intense small-arms firefight that lasted about half an hour. The troops and helicopters used in the combat mission came from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea and from other bases in the region, CNN confirmed.
U.S. officials said the crashed search-and-rescue helicopter was not among those that went into Afghanistan, but was standing by in Pakistan in case it was needed for rescue operations inside the country. Pakistani civil aviation authorities told CNN the helicopter went down in a remote part of the Baluchistan region of southwestern Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
The Taliban claimed Saturday to have downed a helicopter they believed was being used by U.S. troops in the operation, but Myers dismissed that account.
"Any claims that they shot this helicopter down are absolutely false," he said. "This is being classified as an aircraft mishap, and it will be investigated as such."
The identities of those killed were not released Saturday. President Bush said his heart goes out to the families and friends of the dead military personnel, and they "will not have died in vain." And Myers called them heroes, saying, "They put their lives on the line on behalf of freedom and on behalf of America."
In addition to the two raids by ground forces, about 100 U.S. warplanes -- mostly Navy planes from carriers in the Arabian Sea -- struck targets in 15 areas around Afghanistan overnight, Myers said. The targets included Taliban anti-aircraft sites and radar sites, ammunition and vehicle depots, armored vehicles, trucks and buildings.
U.S. forces resumed heavy daylight bombing raids in Afghanistan on Saturday as well. And there was fighting on several fronts between the Taliban and the opposition Northern Alliance along the front line north of Kabul and in several key northern locations.
The Northern Alliance reported heavy fighting with artillery, mortars and machine guns along the Taliban front line north of Kabul. Opposition forces also reported fighting in Ghowr province and in the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, strategically important because it sits on several key northern supply lines.
The Northern Alliance said it had retreated and was now about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) outside of the city; it claimed to have killed 25 Taliban fighters there. The alliance said a total of 20 U.S. troops were cooperating with Northern Alliance forces in what a U.S. official in Washington told CNN was a "liaison" mission with the opposition.
-- CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and CNN.com writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.
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