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U.S. Soldier Shot in Bazaar Attack

April 18, 2002|DAVID ZUCCHINO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A U.S. Special Forces soldier was shot in the face by a gunman who rushed up to him and three other Americans as they were shopping in the crowded downtown bazaar Wednesday in this southern desert city.

The soldier was treated at the American military camp outside Kandahar and was in stable condition, a base spokesman said. Witnesses said the gunman escaped on foot through the warren of narrow alleyways and vegetable stalls in the Largo Gange market.

It was the first reported incident of an American soldier being attacked in a civilian setting since the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan began Oct. 7. Combat, accidents, land mines and aircraft crashes have killed 37 U.S. military personnel since last fall.

Ahmad Walli, a cotton merchant in the bazaar, said the soldier was examining an ammunition belt at the Insaf gun and ammo stall next door when a man emerged from behind a stack of yellow cotton bales. He shot the soldier in the corner of the mouth. An Afghan standing nearby was grazed, Walli said.

The American had drifted away from three fellow U.S. soldiers, who were buying ammunition belts in a stall directly across the dirt pathway. By the time the three soldiers reacted and came to the aid of the wounded man, Walli and other merchants said, the assailant had fled.

All four soldiers were armed, the merchants said, but did not fire their weapons. The gunman used a small-caliber weapon, said Army Maj. A.C. Roper, a spokesman at the Kandahar base.

Marine Maj. Ralph Mills, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said the fellow soldiers at first thought that the shot was a firecracker.

Afghan soldiers cordoned off parts of the bazaar after the 11:10 a.m. shooting, but no arrests were reported. Five merchants were brought in for questioning, security officers said.

The merchants said U.S. soldiers often come to browse the gun stalls, which offer Russian-made automatic rifles, shotguns, ammunition, pistols, bayonets and ammo belts.

The gun shops are about 200 yards from the Special Forces unit's fortified compound. Mills said the injured soldier was driven to get treatment. The soldier remained conscious and was to be flown to an undisclosed American military hospital for further treatment, Mills added. The soldier's name was not released.

Mills said the four soldiers were on patrol, which would require them to be armed.

Three security guards at the Special Forces compound said U.S. soldiers normally visit the bazaar accompanied by an armed Afghan bodyguard. The four Americans had no bodyguard, according to the security guards and merchants. One shopkeeper said they were accompanied by an unarmed Afghan translator.

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