- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

U.S. Special Forces troops battled Taliban fighters in Afghanistan yesterday, leaving several Afghans dead and one U.S. soldier wounded, the Pentagon said yesterday.
"Our forces attacked two compounds and detained 27 individuals," said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "There were enemy forces killed in this action, and one U.S. Special Forces soldier was slightly injured."
The firefight took place early yesterday some 40 miles north of Kandahar, where U.S. forces were hunting the remaining pockets of armed resistance. The raid led to the capture of 27 Taliban soldiers, Gen. Myers said.
It was one of the few times the Pentagon acknowledged in public one of the recent battles still going on in Afghanistan. U.S. commanders have engaged in a series of ground firefights with al Qaeda and the Taliban since being sent to the country in late October.
In mid-November, a Green Beret force destroyed a convoy north of Kandahar and killed up to 300 Taliban fighters. The secret Delta Force commando group has attacked and killed fleeing al Qaeda fighters in the Tora Bora region of northeastern Afghanistan.
The raid yesterday also includeed U.S. air strikes that provided support to the ground troops.
Gen. Myers declined to provide details about the operation, noting that "we still have our eyes on the targets there and there is a potential for further action." Other officials said as many as 15 Taliban soldiers were killed in the fighting.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the raids were planned. "They were not a surprise," he said. The firefight yesterday shows that the war against terrorism in Afghanistan is not over, said Mr. Rumsfeld.
"There are unquestionably pockets of them, and in some cases not small pockets, but somewhat larger than small," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
"And [Taliban fighters] are able to move around the country in some narrow, confined areas in the mountains; they are able to hide, and we are finding them, from time to time. And as we find them, we're engaging in direct action, either alone or with coalition forces or with Afghan forces."
More battles like the one near Kandahar can be expected, he said. "There are a lot more of these pockets," said Mr. Rumsfeld. "We are going to pursue them. We are pursuing them now. We pursue them alone. We pursue them with coalition forces. We pursue them with Afghan forces, and we're going to keep at them until we get them."
Mr. Rumsfeld has said there are at least 10 locations in Afghanistan where al Qaeda or Taliban fighters have not surrendered.
Gen. Myers said the total number of al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in U.S. custody is 455, including the 27 Taliban fighters captured yesterday. A total of 297 are in Afghanistan, and 158 are in Cuba.
Initial reports indicated the fighters were part of the al Qaeda terrorist group, Gen. Meyers said, but after the raid it was found that most were Afghan Taliban militia. He said the attack took place at an above-ground complex that had several facilities.
Defense officials declined to identify the wounded soldier but said his injury he was shot in the ankle is not life-threatening. The soldier was evacuated from Afghanistan to a medical facility in the region.
Meanwhile, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said yesterday that operations were also targeting Islamic militants opposed to Uzbekistan's president.
"Our efforts, as we go forward, will continue to be aimed at the destruction of remaining pockets of Taliban fighters and al Qaeda still located inside Afghanistan," Gen. Tommy Franks told reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Gen. Franks said the Taliban had been mostly destroyed but that the United States will continue gathering intelligence aimed at preventing future attacks. He also said U.S. forces are targeting the remnant of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Islamic extremist group allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda.
In thanking the government of Uzbekistan for its support, Gen. Franks said: "The support we have received across the region has been considerable. It has indeed met our every need, and we look forward to being recipients of this continued support."
The Uzbek militant group is also on the United States "list to be sorted out," Gen. Franks said. "We will continue our efforts to destroy the remnants of this organization."

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