- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

An Army Green Beret was killed yesterday in a firefight, most likely with Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda army, becoming the first American service member to die in hostile fire since the war in Afghanistan began Oct. 7.
U.S. officials last night said the soldier was killed while on assignment with a CIA paramilitary team working alongside anti-Taliban tribes in eastern Afghanistan. They said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, 31, of San Antonio had been "borrowed" from the army.
"You could call it an ambush," one official said. The source said the agency's team returned fire and killed an undetermined number of its attackers.
Another official said al Qaeda fighters probably attacked the CIA team, but there is the possibility they were engaged by Taliban soldiers or a rival Afghan tribe operating in the Paktia Province. The area south of Jalalabad, which includes Tora Bora, holds the last large concentrations of al Qaeda being hunted by U.S. special-operations forces.
Meanwhile, the United States has arranged for Pakistan to turn over to U.S. control the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who would be one of the highest-ranking Taliban officials to fall into U.S. hands, according to a senior defense official who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistan also has handed over the al Qaeda member who ran bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi has been taken to Kandahar for questioning, a U.S. official said, adding that the prisoner is considered a potentially rich source of information about the terrorist organization.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the war's U.S. commander, said details of the fight, which occurred in an area infested by pockets of al Qaeda fighters around the town of Khowst, were still being gathered.
"What I know is that there was an exchange of small-arms fire," the four-star Army general said at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla. "This American serviceman was doing his job. He was out for the purpose of working with and coordinating with tribal leaders in that area."
Officials said a CIA paramilitary officer was wounded in the exchange, but is expected to survive. Another CIA officer, former Marine Corps officer Johnny "Mike" Spann, was the first American to die in combat in Afghanistan on Nov. 25 during an uprising by al Qaeda prisoners.
Sgt. Chapman, a communications specialist, was not the first Green Beret to die in Afghanistan. Three Special Forces members were killed Dec. 5 in a "friendly fire" accident north of Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold to fall. A satellite-guided bomb from a B-52 hit near the soldiers and opposition forces, instead of the intended target of Taliban militia. Central Command has completed its investigation, but the Pentagon has not released the results.
Green Berets have played a pivotal role in the 90-day-old war in which the Taliban was ousted from power and hundreds, if not thousands, of bin Laden's al Qaeda fighters were killed. The U.S. soldiers joined anti-Taliban tribes in the north and south and helped lead them to victories throughout the country. They also dramatically improved the bombing campaign by pointing out targets for heavy bombers and fighters to strike.
News of the Sgt. Chapman's death came as Gen. Franks' forces continued to focus operations in the eastern Paktia Province, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding.
For the second time in as many days U.S. aircraft bombed the Zhawar Kili compound, a complex of buildings, terrorist training camps and caves favored as a regrouping center by retreating al Qaeda fighters.
A U.S. official said evidence surfaced that elements of bin Laden's security detail were there Thursday, giving hope to war planners that the terrorist mastermind himself might be with them. The United States dropped more than a hundred 2,000-pound bombs on the target Thursday and struck it again yesterday. The official said he doubts bin Laden was there.
"The reason we struck it was because intelligence indicated that there was al Qaeda activity in and around this complex of sufficient size to warrant our need to go back in there, and so that's what we did," Gen. Franks said.
The U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the world's most wanted man is likely moving in friendly tribal areas in a "no man's land" south of Tora Bora around the Pakistan border.
Gen. Franks said yesterday for the first time that Central Command has received intelligence reports on bin Laden's purported location and investigated them.
"We go to the places indicated by the intelligence to confirm or deny the presence of not only bin Laden but his senior leadership, as well," the general said. "So we don't know where he is right now."
The Pentagon also said U.S. forces have dropped leaflets in Afghanistan, urging bin Laden's al Qaeda followers to surrender, that depict the terrorist in civilian clothes and without a beard.
Titled "Don't Die Needlessly," the flier printed in both English and Afghan languages includes a doctored photo of bin Laden, close-shaven but with a mustache, wearing a Western-style suit with a tie, to show how he could have looked if he were to have fled the country.
Gen. Franks defended his war strategy of relying on various anti-Taliban fighters to do most of the ground fighting, with the aid of Green Berets and other special-operations troops. Some military analysts have criticized the commander for not committing thousands of ground troops to catch bin Laden when he was believed holed up in Tora Bora. Instead, Gen. Franks relied on indigenous Afghans motivated by the U.S. reward of millions of dollars for bin Laden, dead or alive.
Gen. Franks said Afghanistan's rugged terrain marked by 20,000-foot peaks, deep valleys and vast deserts was best suited for fighters who know the territory.
"It has seemed to me, and still does, that the very best approach in a country is, if one finds willing allies who know the ground, know the people, that it is best to work with these groups," he said.
The war commander gave limited details on searches of abandoned al Qaeda operating bases. He said seven of eight large cave complexes have been searched in the Tora Bora region where bin Laden is thought to have hidden until his army was flushed out Dec. 17.
He said searchers found a tank, large stores of ammunition and numerous dead bodies. Forensic experts are trying to determine whether any of the dead were senior terrorist leaders sought by the U.S. Justice Department.
The military also has examined 40 of 48 terror camps and compounds but has found no evidence that al Qaeda possessed nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Gen. Franks said the path ahead will be a "very calm atmosphere interrupted by spikes of adrenaline" as new Taliban and al Qaeda pockets are found.
The general at this point is trying to prevent two developments: the regrouping of Taliban fighters who could mount a guerrilla war against the new government in Kabul and the escape of al Qaeda fighters who want to set up terror bases in other countries.
* This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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