- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

U.S. Special Forces troops and Afghan forces raided a hospital in Kandahar on Sunday and ended a two-month siege by al Qaeda terrorists, the Pentagon said yesterday.
"Despite numerous attempts to negotiate their peaceful surrender, six al Qaeda forces had been holed up in the hospital for almost two months," said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Staff.
"Initial reports indicate that all six of those forces were killed in yesterday's attack," he said at a Pentagon briefing yesterday.
Meanwhile, a U.S. military helicopter made a hard landing near Khost, Afghanistan, yesterday, injuring 14 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division. No deaths were reported and 10 soldiers escaped injury, according to Col. Frank Wiercinski, a spokesman with the 101st Airborne.
The incident took place as a CH-47 transport helicopter was ferrying the soldiers to a U.S. Marine Corps base near Khost. The 101st Airborne is in the process of replacing the Marines in Afghanistan.
Adm. Stufflebeem told reporters at the Pentagon that several Afghans were wounded in the firefight at the Chinese-run hospital in Kandahar, once a stronghold of the ousted Taliban militia. There were no U.S. casualties, he said.
Regarding captured detainees, Adm. Stufflebeem said the total in custody is now 482: 158 prisoners in Cuba and 324 others in Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said during the same briefing that the Pentagon is trying to identify the detainees. "One of the things we're working on as we look at designation and disposition is how you identify these people and who belongs in which category, if you will," she said.
The nationalities of the detainees also have not been disclosed, but news reports have said that at least 15 of the prisoners are Saudi nationals.
Adm. Stufflebeem also defended a U.S. military strike last week on a compound near Hazar Qadam, which, according to some news reports from Afghanistan, caused civilian injuries.
"This had the clear indications of being a legitimate military target, based on the indicators that we had been observing over time," Adm. Stufflebeem said.
The fighters at the compound had been using stolen U.N. vehicles and were driving them in and out of the compound, indicating it was a meeting place, he said.
U.S. military forces "had clear indicators of being something that was protected and guarded, much like compounds we have seen where Taliban and al Qaeda have gathered before," Adm. Stufflebeem said.
Based on intelligence about the suspicious movements at the compound, the local U.S. commander decided to "put a force on the ground" to find out what was taking place there and capture prisoners, he said.
"It was clearly not a case to bring in bombers and drop guided weapons and just level the place, as has been done in some cases in the past," he said.
U.S. forces were fired at as they reached the compound, and in the ensuing fight killed 15 or 16 persons and took 27 others into custody.
During the raid, the Taliban guerrillas were found to have been holding people prisoner. The detainees were found dead and bound, he said.
The compound also had large stores of ammunition, which were blown up in attacks with AC-130 gunships, he said.
Adm. Stufflebeem said the Afghans led the raid on the hospital and attacked a wing where the fighters were holed up. The Afghans met the al Qaeda fighters head on, and U.S. forces provided assistance.
"I think it's fair to say that because it was Afghan-led, that the Afghans properly get the credit for having brought this to a conclusion," Adm. Stufflebeem said.
The Afghan military commander in Kandahar province had been negotiating with the al Qaeda guerrillas for two months, trying to get them to surrender.
Initially, eight al Qaeda fighters were in the hospital. One committed suicide, and another tried to escape.
"Of the six remaining, they had threatened anyone who would hear them that they'll kill themselves before being taken, and what they wanted was their medical treatment," Adm. Stufflebeem said.
After exhausting efforts to negotiate a surrender, the Kandahar commander ordered the raid, he said.

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