- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan A U.S. soldier was killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, and two U.S. soldiers were injured in separate incidents as a U.S. base came under rocket fire, underscoring the continuing danger in Afghanistan.
Also yesterday, a German military helicopter crashed near the Kabul airport, killing seven peacekeepers aboard and two children on the ground, officials said.
It was not clear what brought down the Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter in an industrial neighborhood on the eastern edge of Kabul, said Lt. Col. Andreas Steffan, spokesman for Dutch and German peacekeepers. British Maj. Gordon MacKenzie said the helicopter had not been fired upon.
The slain U.S. soldier was shot while on a nighttime operation in the eastern province of Paktika, near the border of Pakistan. The Defense Department identified the soldier as Sgt. Steven Checo, 22, of New York City. He was a member of the 504th Infantry, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
He was the first U.S. soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan since August, when a soldier died of wounds suffered in an ambush in July.
Sgt. Checo was in the eastern province of Paktika when his unit got into a firefight about 4 a.m. with forces suspected of being linked to the ousted Taliban regime or al Qaeda, said Army spokesman Maj. Steve Clutter.
"They had these individuals under observation for a while," Maj. Clutter said. "They were actually getting ready to approach them to investigate, and as they got closer, they realized they were armed."
The enemy forces fled across the border into Pakistan, Maj. Clutter said.
In the other incidents, a U.S. special-operations soldier was hurt Friday afternoon when rockets were fired at a U.S. compound in Asadabad, the capital of Afghanistan's northeastern Kunar province. The soldier was taken to Bagram, where he underwent surgery. He was listed in stable condition, the military said in a statement.
The air base immediately sent an A-10 aircraft to Asadabad. It strafed the area with 2,000 rounds from its 40-mm guns to try to flush out the enemy attackers. It was not known whether any of the attackers was hurt or killed.
A third solder was hurt in a weapons training exercise with the Afghan military near Spin Boldak in southeast Afghanistan. The soldier was trying to correct a misfire on a rocket-propelled grenade launcher at the time.
He was stable after undergoing surgery at Bagram.
In the fourth incident, the military said, two rockets were fired near a U.S. base at Khost in eastern Afghanistan. There were no injuries, and the base was not damaged.
About 8,000 American troops are deployed across the mountainous nation, mostly along the eastern border with Pakistan.

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