- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 21, 2001

American commandos seized an airfield in southern Afghanistan, and then launched a raid on a compound of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, senior U.S. officials said yesterday.
One senior official said the airfield has now become a critical piece of real estate but declined to say whether U.S. troops were still on the ground.
The airfield will be used to launch subsequent commando raids against the Taliban militia and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Meanwhile, at least three loud explosions were heard in Kabul before dawn today as U.S. aircraft made several sorties around the Afghan capital. Witnesses said the explosions seemed to be taking place in the east of the city.
The official also said additional ground operations were under way yesterday inside Afghanistan near Kabul. The Pentagon declined to comment but did discuss the airfield raid, which occurred early yesterday morning, Afghanistan time.
"The overall mission was successful. We accomplished our objectives," declared Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Yesterday's twin attacks were a complex, one-two punch designed to be psychologically destructive as well as being militarily effective.
U.S. planners picked two lightly defended targets: the airfield and one of the compounds of Mullah Omar near Kandahar. The city is the spiritual and political stronghold of the radical Taliban regime that has harbored bin Laden since 1996. The forays by special-operations forces also were meant to deliver a public relations message to the American people that President Bush is making progress in his war on the al Qaeda network, the official said.
"The Taliban now knows we can hit them on the ground, from any direction," the official said. "They cannot spend the same night in the same place two nights in a row."
The official said the Pentagon, from this point forward, will launch special-operations raids on a fairly continuous basis to carry out its goal of ousting the Taliban militia from power, destroying the al Qaeda network inside Afghanistan and capturing or killing bin Laden.
Mr. Bush wants the fugitive "dead or alive" for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The U.S. bombing campaign, completing its first two weeks yesterday, had struck several of Mullah Omar's homes and headquarters. However, U.S. warplanes did not target the compound that was raided yesterday, apparently in the hope that covert commandos would find valuable intelligence.
"We did not expect to find significant Taliban leadership at these locations," Gen. Myers said. Mullah Omar and bin Laden are presumed to be in hiding in one of the country's massive cave complexes.
Gen. Myers did say the soldiers retrieved "items" from both targets. "We are in the process of evaluating the intelligence we brought out," he said. Gen. Myers said no one was captured.
The Pentagon declared on Friday the air strikes had "severed" all communications between the Taliban leadership, meaning that Mullah Omar is not able to coordinate troop movements via normal channels.
Gen. Myers reported no U.S. casualties and said the raid resulted in an unknown number of enemy dead. He called defenses "light without significant interference" from Taliban forces.
He declined to say which forces, other than airborne Army Rangers, participated.
An official said the attack was carried out by the Rangers, who seized the airport, and then by Army Green Berets and Delta Force soldiers who infiltrated Afghanistan on low-flying Black Hawk helicopters, first hitting the airfield, and then the compound near Kandahar.
More than 100 commandos took part in the operation.
They quickly returned to the seized airfield and exited the country on troop-carrying Black Hawk helicopters.
The helicopters' night-vision systems and ability to fly at tree-top level make them hard to detect, especially by the Taliban's bomb-damaged defenses.
However, today's editions of the New York Times quote defense department officials as saying that the twin attacks covered an operation by other elite commandos aimed at uncovering the locations and movements of Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.
The covert action could have continued long after the lightning strikes near Kandahar ended, and that intelligence material seized during the overt operations may have been used to fuel the secret mission, it said.
Gen. Myers displayed dramatic, soundless video clips showing quick scenes of the nighttime attack. Operations under the cover of darkness are a specialty of U.S. forces, who employ night-sight goggles and gunsights that let them operate while remaining undetected. The comparatively rudimentary Taliban and al Qaeda forces are not known to own such sophisticated equipment.
A military-operated night-vision camera captured video showing U.S. commandos packing their gear, boarding a C-130 cargo turboprop on a sandy airfield, parachuting into Afghanistan in white streams against the night sky and then inspecting seized weapons after securing one of their targets. The teams spent about three hours inside the country.
All commandos returned safely. Gen. Myers declined to say if any forces still occupied the airfield, which is "some distance" from the compound of the Kandahar target.
"They are now refitting and relocating for potential future operations against terrorist targets and other areas known to harbor terrorists," Gen. Myers said.
The commandos were reinforced by hovering AC-130 gunships, firing volleys of powerful 40 mm and 105 mm munitions, as well as jet fighters.
"They had all the support they needed," Gen. Myers declared.
But America did suffer its first two combat deaths in the Bush administration's war on terrorism. Two military personnel, part of a search-and-rescue unit based in a remote desert region in south Pakistan, were killed when a Black Hawk pilot became disoriented as sand kicked up and the helicopter crashed.
Said Mr. Bush on an economic summit in Shanghai: "We are destroying terrorist hideaways. We are slowly but surely encircling the terrorist so that we can bring them to justice."
Gen. Myers labeled "absolutely false" a Taliban claim that its air defenses hit the Black Hawk and it limped back to Pakistan before crashing.
Gen. Myers also provided a brief description of Friday's air activity. It was the fifth straight day of heavy attacks, compared with the first week, when usually 10 to 20 strike planes took to the air. On Friday, around 100 aircraft hunted 15 planned target areas, including anti-aircraft sites.
The incessant air attacks had an especially pivotal goal this week: Destroy as many air-defense missiles and artillery guns as possible so the low, slow AC-130 gunships and special forces helicopters could operate in as low-risk an environment as possible.
Gen. Myers declined to say where Friday mission originated from.
Officials say there are at least three main launch points: the carrier USS Kitty Hawk operating near Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf country of Oman and the former Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. Pakistan is allowing the United States use of its air space, as well as its territory as a base of operations for search-and-rescue missions.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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