WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Sunday that a U.S. Special Forces soldier died after his unit came under heavy fire while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan.
Ten-year veteran Sgt. Gene Arden Vance Jr., 38, of Morgantown, W.Va., died after waiting for medical assistance to arrive. Vance was a member of the National Guard's 19th Special Forces Unit in West Viginia, spokesman Maj. Mike Cadle said.
The firefight began when suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces hit the American unit with small-arms fire. The unit, along with allied coalition forces, was part of a patrol that has been sweeping the area in search of enemy contingents.
"[Vance] was killed while on patrol in eastern Afghanistan after his unit came under enemy fire," said Marine Lt. Col. Mike Humm, a Pentagon spokesman. "The firefight started when enemy forces engaged the patrol."
No other U.S. forces were reported harmed. It could not be ascertained whether there were casualties among the enemy forces.
Since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom last year, 22 American military personnel have been killed in action.
The U.S. patrols began Friday near the southeastern Afghan city of Khowst, where military authorities believed a large number of enemy soldiers were hiding after ambushing an Australian unit the day before.
The Australians had come under heavy fire there for five hours, until calling in strikes by American gunships, which killed 10 people who the coalition said were Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.
Lt. Col. Ben Curry, a British military spokesman at Bagram air base north of Kabul, said Sunday that coalition troops sweeping the area found a small amount of ammunition, including two 120-millimeter rockets and a few cases of 12.7-millimeter ammunition.
The Sabari, an Afghan tribe whose fighters were killed in Thursday's airstrikes, disputed the coalition account of the fighting. A delegation from the tribe discussed the bombing with U.S. officers Saturday at Khowst airport, where American Special Forces are based.
Members of the tribe said their fighters were skirmishing with the Balkhiel tribe in a dispute over trees near their villages when the coalition attacked. Sabari elders denied firing on the Australians or the U.S. aircraft or having links to Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
However, a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Bryan Hilferty, said Sunday that he had "no reason to believe" the tribe's account. "They were shooting heavy machine guns and mortars at us. That is a known Al Qaeda and Taliban area," he said.
Coalition forces had observed the area for several days and believed it was being used as a transit point by Al Qaeda and Taliban members, Hilferty said.