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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.S. Loses Its 1st Serviceman to Enemy Fire

Afghanistan: The Green Beret's death in an ambush shows the high-tech campaign is still risky. A CIA agent is seriously injured.

January 05, 2002|PAUL RICHTER and ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier was killed Friday in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan, becoming the first U.S. service member slain by enemy action in three months of warfare, Pentagon officials said.

The Green Beret was identified as Sgt. 1st Class Nathan R. Chapman, 31, of San Antonio, Texas, the Pentagon said. He was ambushed while on a mission with allied Afghan fighters near Khowst, where Al Qaeda fighters have congregated, officials said.

A CIA officer who was part of the same intelligence-gathering mission was seriously wounded in the fighting, although his injuries weren't considered life-threatening, officials said. Both were evacuated from the area by a U.S. military rescue team, officials said.

The incident was a reminder that the Pentagon's precision-bombing techniques and other advanced technology have enabled the U.S. to wage massive military campaigns with remarkably few casualties. That the U.S. has been able to accomplish so much in Afghanistan with only one soldier killed by hostile fire "is a very powerful sign of American military strength," retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said on CNN.

At the same time, it underscored the fact that U.S. forces in the country continue to face risks even with the Taliban regime ousted and its allies in the Al Qaeda terror network scattered, officials noted.

As the search for Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders continued Friday, the commander believed to have been hiding the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, reportedly surrendered to anti-Taliban forces.

Abdul Wahed Baghrani, who is believed to have sheltered Omar in a remote mountainous area near Baghran, in south-central Afghanistan, is helping the search for his former leader, according to the transitional Afghan government.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the Afghan campaign, said at a news conference in Tampa, Fla., that allied troops have indications that Omar is still in the Baghran region.

Baghrani's surrender was reported by Abdullah Jan, a senior official in the security section of the Afghan Interior Ministry.

"Now the process of handing over heavy and light weapons is underway," Jan said. He said he didn't know why Baghrani was unable to simply hand over Omar.

Afghan troops as well as U.S. special operations troops were searching for Omar in caves and mountain redoubts in the Baghran area, he said.

The United States also gained custody of the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan and the Al Qaeda member who ran Osama bin Laden's training camps, Associated Press reported Friday. Pakistan is turning over the former envoy, Abdul Salam Zaeef, who would be one of the highest-ranking Taliban officials to fall into U.S. hands, according to a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Al Qaeda member, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, has been taken to the southern city of Kandahar for questioning, a U.S. official said, adding that the detainee is considered a potentially rich source of information about the terrorist organization.

The main focus of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan is now the area around Khowst, only a few miles from the border with Pakistan.

U.S. warplanes attacked a reported Al Qaeda compound in the region Friday for the second straight day. U.S. officials said the area was struck again because of intelligence suggesting that Al Qaeda fighters were gathering at the site, possibly for a move across the border.

The compound, which included caves and some buildings used for training, is in an area that was struck by U.S. cruise missiles in 1998 in retaliation for the bombing of American embassies in Africa.

In his news conference at Central Command headquarters, Franks said he was "thankful every day that we have not lost more people than we have lost in this fight."

Chapman was married and had two young children. His parents, Will and Lynn Chapman of Georgetown, Texas, said he "loved the Army and referred to his unit as his second family," Associated Press reported late Friday.

Chapman, a member of the 1st Special Forces Group out of Ft. Lewis, Wash., was the second American to lose his life in enemy action in the war. Johnny "Mike" Spann, a CIA officer, died Nov. 25 in a riot by Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners at a jail in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed Dec. 5 when a U.S. bomb missed its target. Since the war began Oct. 7, five other members of the military have died in three accidents and an unexplained shooting.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other defense officials have warned almost daily that the risks to U.S. forces remain high. U.S. troops on the ground face great danger in their cave searches as well as from ambushes, terrorist-style bombings of their temporary installations, land mines and booby-traps, officials say.

U.S. Commander Defends Ground Tactics

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