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U.S. troops learn caution in Afghanistan

Paratroop unit enters combat for first time since Vietnam



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A U.S. Army captain describes an attack on his men in Afghanistan.

CNN's Nic Robertson on U.S. soldiers' efforts to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- As U.S. forces beef up patrols in Afghanistan, about 60 members of an elite Army unit were ambushed twice in less than 24 hours last week.

None of the soldiers were wounded, but it marked the most significant contact with hostile forces since the members of B Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, arrived late last year.

"Our guys are definitely a lot more focused now, being the first major contact we've had," said Capt. Jon Chung, the company commander. "It's definitely real now."

About 60 members of the unit were on a four-day patrol along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border when the ambushes took place Thursday and Friday.

In the first incident, Chung said, an improvised explosive device or roadside bomb went off to try to lure troops into a trap.

Within about 20 minutes, they came under small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attack.

"One of the things that we learned is that moving in to that location with an [improvised explosive device], it's potentially a baited ambush," Chung said.

The attackers eventually fled back to Pakistan.

In the second incident, the troops came under fire as they were returning to their forward operating base. An airstrike was called in.

The region where the fighting took place is in the vicinity of Khowst, about 90 miles southeast of Kabul.

It is also near the Waziristan province of Pakistan, where the Pakistani government recently launched an offensive against suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

U.S. authorities have said they believe Osama bin Laden and his top deputies are hiding somewhere along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

In recent weeks the United States has been beefing up its forces in Afghanistan, with 2,000 Marines being deployed to bolster the 11,000 troops already there. (Full story)

The U.S. military has been planning a spring offensive across southern and eastern Afghanistan called Operation Mountain Storm.

U.S. officials have said that ground troops and aircraft are expected to move into Afghanistan's southeastern border region with Pakistan in the next few weeks.

As the weather warms and the snow melts, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters are becoming more active, with U.S. troops reporting an increase in firefights and rocket attacks on their bases.

The 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, was deployed to Afghanistan in October.

It marked the first combat deployment for the regiment since the Vietnam War.

CNN's Nic Robertson contributed to this report.


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