March 24, 2003
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Helicopters thundered over mountain villages, disgorging soldiers to search mud-brick houses as U.S.-led forces pressed their hunt for al-Qaida remnants in Afghanistan this week.
"Don't let them bring (the fight) to you, you bring it to them," Lt. Col. Charlie Flynn of the 82nd Airborne Division's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment told his troops as the new operation in the hunt for terrorists began in Afghanistan's rugged Sami Ghar mountains Thursday.
The troops were accompanied by pool reporters, but they were not allowed to file dispatches until Sunday.
About 600 U.S. troops assisted by Romanian infantry and Afghan fighters launched Operation Valiant Strike on Thursday just as U.S. forces began airstrikes on Baghdad. Commanders said the timing was coincidence.
Chinook and Black Hawk transport helicopters, under escort from Apache helicopter gunships, zoomed into the area, believed to be a haven for members of the former Taliban regime ousted by U.S. troops in late 2001.
Female soldiers, with help from Afghan interpreters, frisked village women. Other troops found and removed small arms, mine stashes and rocket-propelled grenades from walled compounds and houses.
Troops chased down two men who ran as U.S. forces arrived, but found they were shepherds who said they were spooked by the din of Apaches roaring overhead. They were let go.
When asked about small arms found in his home, shepherd Akter Mohammad, 40, said he needed guns to protect his sheep from wolves. The air assault scared him, making him think the soldiers were going to take away his family.
"If they are coming to bring peace in Afghanistan, we are happy," Mohammad said.
Chinooks dropped off troops in a dried-up riverbed, and several soldiers walked into the village of Narai for a "soft breach" that involved meeting with local elders and explaining the mission before conducting a sweep.
Since the beginning of the raids, at least 13 people have been detained. Afghan troops traded fire with enemy fighters on Saturday, but U.S. troops have encountered no resistance.
U.S. forces found one of the largest weapons caches in months Saturday, consisting of hundreds of rockets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
"The difficult thing about missions like this is not knowing who's who. Who is left over from the Taliban?" 1st Sgt. Craig Pinkley said. "The best part is finding a big cache like this -- it prevents future attacks."
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Several Afghans who had been held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay were released because they were no longer considered a terrorist threat, officials said Sunday.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind said 18 prisoners had left the base on Friday to be released. About 30 new prisoners were taken to America's high-security island prison in Cuba on Sunday, bringing the number of inmates there to about 660, Burfeind said.