Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Seven U.S. soldiers killed

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — Seven U.S. soldiers were killed Monday, in the deadliest battle for Americans in the Afghan conflict, when two army helicopters were hit by enemy fire during a major offensive against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the icy mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

The commander of American forces in the region also told reporters that up to 200 diehard al Qaeda guerrillas and Taliban fighters had been killed in the first four days of U.S.-led “Operation Anaconda” near Gardez.

The U.S. Central Command said two MH-47 Army Special Forces helicopters were forced down by enemy ground fire Monday and that six soldiers aboard one of the helicopters died, either during the hard landing or in a fierce firefight after the big aircraft landed.

The helicopter was hit by ground fire as it moved into the mountainous region in an apparent search for another U.S. soldier, killed earlier in the day when he fell from an MH-47 that also came under fire and retreated, the Pentagon said.

The deaths brought to eight the number of American soldiers killed since the operation began Friday night.

“Based on the information which I have received, I would say at this point there have been between 100 and 200 al Qaeda and enemy soldiers killed in this fight,” U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks told a briefing in Tampa, Fla.

Citing the fierce resistance to the biggest western attack in five months of fighting, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the operation proved beyond a doubt there were still pockets of resistance in Afghanistan despite an earlier rout of al Qaeda and the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders.

‘Well-organized, dug in’

“They’re obviously well-organized. They’re dug in. They’re well armed. And they’re fighting fiercely,” Rumsfeld said as the difficult operation against regrouping al Qaeda and Taliban moved into a fourth day in mountainous terrain.

Another American was killed Saturday, shortly after the operation near Gardez began.

The resurgence of fighting followed a lull of several weeks, during which some politicians in Washington began to question the U.S. mission.

Hundreds of Afghan troops, as well as others from Western countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway, were involved in the attack on al Qaeda and Taliban forces, many believed to be dug in with their families.

“We knew they would resist strongly and anticipated a fierce fight. That is exactly what’s taking place,” Rumsfeld said. More than 36 U.S. forces have been wounded, although half of them have been treated and returned to the fighting, Pentagon officials said.

Also speaking at the Pentagon, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the attack, supported by hundreds of bombs dropped by U.S. warplanes, had been planned for weeks. It is dubbed “Operation Anaconda” after the snake that squeezes its prey until it can no longer breathe.

Myers said American helicopters were operating near the edge of their abilities in thin air at such high altitudes.

Much greater enemy casualties

“The enemy forces have sustained much larger numbers of killed and wounded, and there will be many more,” Rumsfeld said of casualties among the hundreds of Taliban and fighters of fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who have regrouped in the area after earlier, crushing defeats.

“While we have hit resistance, there should be no doubt about the outcome in this case. The only choices are for al Qaeda to surrender or to be killed,” Myers said.

As he has said repeatedly, Rumsfeld stressed pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters remained throughout Afghanistan.

He said there was no indication fugitive al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, blamed by Washington for devastating Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, was in the area.

President Bush mourned the deaths of seven U.S. soldiers in America’s bloodiest day of fighting in the Afghan war but said the United States would defend itself.

“This nation will defend ourselves and freedom at any price,” Bush told students at Eden Prairie High School during a one-day visit to Minnesota. “It is too precious a gift for future generations to give up to terrorists.”

The U.S. president said the resurgence of al Qaeda resistance in Afghanistan would not deter him from taking the battle on terrorism elsewhere, including Yemen and the Philippines. “We’ll keep battling al Qaeda wherever we find them,” he said.

At the White House, a spokesman said President Bush regretted the loss of American lives but was being kept up to date about the “success of the ongoing military operation.”

“The president’s reaction is that this is an ongoing operation in a war in which the president has said there will be casualties . . . and he regrets all loss of American life,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The Pentagon identified the soldier killed Saturday as Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley Harriman of Wade, N.C.

Twenty-three other American soldiers have died in Afghanistan or the region in connection with the war effort, including three when a U.S. bomb went astray. A civilian CIA agent was also killed in a firefight.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, speaking earlier, said more than 1,000 U.S. personnel — including special operations troops and members of the Army’s 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions — were involved in the attack.

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