- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan Gunmen came within 50 yards of U.S. positions in an apparently well-organized attack on the main American base in southern Afghanistan that left two soldiers slightly injured, an Army spokesman said yesterday.

The attack Wednesday night sparked a 15- to 20-minute firefight, with U.S. troops shooting back with machine guns, dispatching helicopter gunships and sending up flares. It was the most intense attack on the heavily guarded airfield at Kandahar since Jan. 10, when gunmen opened fire as a transport plane carrying 20 al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners took off for the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Meanwhile, one of the new Afghan government's top ministers was killed by a group of religious pilgrims at the Kabul airport angry over delays in traveling to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the hajj pilgrimage, government sources said on the condition of anonymity.

The sources said Abdul Rahman, who was in charge of civil aviation, was at the airport for a trip to India when the crowd swarmed his plane after rumors that their trip would be delayed further because the minister had taken their plane, the sources said.

When he tried to calm the crowd, he was attacked and fatally injured.

In Kandahar, flares were fired again from U.S. positions late yesterday after troops spotted a vehicle with three passengers about a mile southwest of the airfield, Army spokesman Maj. A.C. Roper said. Two others were seen near the vehicle. One flare started a large fire near the perimeter.

"Nobody was caught and no shots were fired," Maj. Roper said. "I can't say there is any connection between the vehicles seen tonight and the ones observed yesterday."

The two soldiers slightly injured Wednesday were back on duty yesterday, said Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Florida. One suffered a slight wound in the hand and the other was grazed in the neck by a bullet, Maj. Mills said.


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