- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 16, 2002

At least four American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday while attempting to dispose of old rockets, Pentagon officials said. One was injured and others were missing.
"This tragic event highlights that our servicemen and women remain at risk" while doing their duty in Afghanistan, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who joined Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at a Pentagon briefing.
"It was a disposal unit that was actively working to destroy some weapons that had been found. For whatever reason, it went off," Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Although Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers did not reveal any details of the incident, defense officials elsewhere in the Pentagon said at least four died.
Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a military spokesman in Afghanistan, indicated details were still not clear and that the incident was an explosion that happened while the soldiers were disposing of "large-caliber rockets."
"It doesn't appear to be hostile fire," said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Lapan. "It is related to ordnance."
Another official said the number of dead was expected to climb above four because a number were unaccounted for.
Officials said a team of about 10 Americans was handling old Russian or Chinese artillery rounds, which can be extremely unstable and difficult to even move without detonating.
Yusuf Pashtoon, spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said the explosion occurred next to the compound of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader who fled the former Taliban stronghold in the south of the country and has been in hiding since the U.S.-led bombing and ground campaign ousted his government in December.
Omar's compound is about 2 miles north of Kandahar city. The U.S. team was working in an area where ordnance is normally destroyed in controlled detonations, Mr. Pashtoon said.
The injured were being treated at a U.S. hospital set up months ago at the Kandahar airport.
"It was an accident," said Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla.
Nearly 7,000 Americans are deployed in Afghanistan to continue the anti-terrorism effort of destroying Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, blamed in the September 11 attacks on America, and his Taliban supporters.
Troops have been scouring caves and countryside in the search often finding and blowing up weapons caches. There also are many land mines left over in Afghanistan from years of war.
The incident followed a difficult weekend for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, when fighting in the six-month war was on an upsurge.

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