- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

KHOST, Afghanistan The door to the Afghan villa banged open, and three U.S. paratroopers burst in, weapons high and ready for trouble.

"Clear," shouted one, looking around. There were a few cushions, a half-eaten breakfast of flat bread and tea, and an old rifle.

This was supposed to be a munitions depot for al Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers sneaking into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Instead, Wednesday's raid in the eastern city of Khost turned up nothing but a few guns, which the family was allowed to keep.

Such raids are the new face of the war against terrorism. Nearly a year after the bombings and pitched battles that drove the Taliban from power, the U.S. campaign has turned to such painstakingly planned operations, some paying off big, others turning out to be busts.

The groundwork for Wednesday's raid began weeks earlier. Intelligence indicated the homes of two fugitive Taliban leaders, Qammarudin and Ahdermzai, were being used to store weapons and as assembly points for militants sneaking over the Pakistani border to prepare terrorist attacks.

Satellite pictures were taken, and two 10-by-10-foot models of the compounds were built at Camp Salerno, one of two U.S. bases in the area. A water bottle represented a mosque, blue spray paint on the ground stood for a dry riverbed.

Moving a pointer through the models, Col. David Gerard and his officers went through the plan Tuesday two simultaneous raids, with some troops trucked in and others hiking through three miles of muddy fields. It required about 250 troops, not counting the artillery crews on standby in case something went wrong.

The suspect compounds were located near Khost, and Col. Gerard worried about panicking the townsfolk so he told the Apache helicopter gunships to stay on the ground.

"This mission is a little outside our comfort zone, but we're capable of it," Col. Gerard told commanders.

Some 19 hours later, soldiers with the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment crouched in the mud as the 5 a.m. call to prayer echoed from loudspeakers across the fields outside Khost. Their pants were soaked from sloshing through ditches on the way to Ahdermzai's compound, code-named "Grant One."

As the sun came up, the troops surrounded the compound, setting up machine-gun positions. One soldier waved away a man and his goats plodding across the field.

A translator ordered everyone inside to come out except the women, who were gathered in one courtyard. Several families, all related, lived in different sections of the compound.

The patriarch of the compound, Hajji Amanullah Khan, was fuming. "I don't know why they are here," he said. "It's very bad in our culture to come bursting into another man's house like this."

While troops frisked the men and women, "clearing teams" swept through every room of the compound with guns at the ready. A machine-gun squad hustled inside one of the houses and set up a position on the roof.

Maj. Scott Harris, the operations officer for the battalion, followed the search teams, surveying what they'd found. There were a couple of long rifles, an ancient six-shooter pistol and five AK-47s, which are as common in rural Afghanistan as shotguns are in the United States. The troops confiscated part of a rocket-propelled grenade and some machine-gun ammunition. They also took the radio for examination.

There were some pictures of "martyrs" on the wall some of them relatives, and all of them victims of the war against the Soviets, Mr. Khan said.

A few miles away, troops in the second compound also had little to show for their search.

Asked if the troops were wrong about "Grant One" being Ahdermzai's house, Maj. Harris turned to a bearded military interrogator.

"Can we rule this out as a target residence?"

The soldier thought for a while, then nodded.

Later, Col. Gerard acknowledged the tip came from a single person and may have been months old. He's not even sure the two Taliban fugitives exist.

"They may or may not exist, but if they exist, they know we're on the lookout for them," he said.

To smooth things over with the neighbors, Army medics offered free medical care before leaving the compounds and a line of eager patients formed.

By noon, the troops had climbed into the trucks, followed by dozens of children begging for handouts of pens and bottled water. An officer gave the family $10 for padlocks that had to be cut and for crops damaged by the soldiers, and Mr. Khan agreed to go to Camp Salerno to talk to intelligence officials.

"Well, that was a whole lot of nothing," grumbled one soldier as the convoy bounced back to Salerno.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide