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RESPONSE TO TERROR

U.S. Destroys Munitions Cache After Raids on 2 Afghan Sites

January 26, 2002|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — U.S. forces discovered--and then destroyed--a significant cache of munitions at two Afghan military compounds raided early Thursday, Pentagon officials said Friday.

Hundreds of mortars and rockets and roughly half a million rounds of small-arms ammunition were found, said Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

An AC-130 gunship was called in to destroy the cache, Stufflebeem said.

The Pentagon had thought that the sites, near the central Afghan town of Hazar Qadam, were hide-outs for fighters of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist organization, but they turned out to be populated mostly by members of the Taliban.

About 15 enemy fighters were killed in the attack by U.S. soldiers, and 27 prisoners were taken, officials said. One American Green Beret was wounded in an ankle by enemy fire.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the prisoners were mainly Taliban members and included some "relatively senior" figures. Stufflebeem said they were being screened and interrogated at the Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan.

Afghan authorities also turned over five prisoners to U.S. forces in Kandahar on Thursday and Friday, Stufflebeem said, bringing the total there to 302.

The transfer of prisoners from Kandahar to the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remained on hold Friday. Stufflebeem said the decision to stop the transfers was made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In a related development, a Predator unmanned surveillance plane crashed in bad weather in Afghanistan on Friday. It was the second of the fragile and still experimental reconnaissance drones to crash this week and the fourth since the Afghanistan campaign began. In addition, three Predators flown by the military over Iraq have crashed since Sept. 11.

The drone, which flies as high as 25,000 feet, can take pictures and listen to enemy communications. An entire Predator system, including a ground-control station and four aircraft, costs about $25 million.

Predators have seen heavy use in Afghanistan, including by the CIA, which has armed them with missiles to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda targets.

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