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Two U.S. troops killed in Afghan ambush

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2003

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Four gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a U.S. military reconnaissance patrol in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing two Americans and wounding a third, officials said.

Three Afghan soldiers also were wounded.

Meanwhile, U.S. special operations soldiers backed by air support joined about 1,000 Afghan troops to battle about 100 Taliban fighters in southern Uruzgan province, the U.S. military said. At least 15 Taliban fighters were reported killed.

The ambush attack was the first fatal encounter for U.S. forces in this country since December, but came just two days after a Red Cross worker was killed in southern Afghanistan in what could signal a resurgence of activity by holdout fighters of the former Taliban regime.

Afghan authorities Saturday accused Taliban fugitives and their al-Qaida allies, as well as forces loyal to renegade rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, of ambushing the convoy.

In recent interviews with the Associated Press, Taliban loyalists hiding in Pakistan said training camps were established in the Afghan mountains and anti-American forces had united. They warned of stepped-up attacks once the war in Iraq began.

One special forces soldier and an airman were killed and another special forces trooper was wounded when their four-vehicle convoy was ambushed during a reconnaissance patrol near Geresk. The victims were not immediately identified.

Geresk is in Helmand province, about 70 miles west of the city of Kandahar.

Army spokesman Col. Roger King said there were less than 20 people in the convoy.

"They drove into a kill zone," King said.

The convoy sped out of the area after the Americans were shot and a gunfight ensued, King said.

There likely will be a response from the U.S. military, which recently finished an antiterror sweep known as Operation Viper in the area.

"We'll probably make attempts to find out who did the ambushing," King said, without elaborating.

Saturday's deaths bring to 18 the number of U.S. forces killed in combat in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, U.S. special forces and hundreds of Afghan soldiers fought about 100 Taliban fighters in southern Uruzgan province, officials said.

Uruzgan province Gov. Haji Jan Mohammed told The Associated Press that 15 Taliban were killed and eight captured in the fighting in Sangisakh Shaila, 50 miles north of Kandahar. Six of Mohammed's men were wounded, he said.

Mohammed sent at least 400 soldiers to the fight and U.S. special forces were involved, he said.

Another 600 soldiers from neighboring Kandahar province were sent to the battle area, said provincial police official Shafiullah.

"The Taliban are using heavy weapons and we are trying to either kill or arrest them," Mohammed said.

The Norwegian military said two Norwegian F-16 fighter jets dropped four laser-guided bombs on targets northeast of Kandahar.

Missile threat brings stricter airport rules

WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities will order major security improvements at several of the nation's largest airports after inspections showed that passenger planes taking off or landing at those airports would be vulnerable to attack by terrorists using shoulder-fired missiles, senior Bush administration officials said.

The inspections, which began several weeks ago, are being conducted by a federal task force created by the White House late last year after terrorists linked to al-Qaida tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane on takeoff from an airport in Kenya in November. The two small, shoulder-fired missiles barely missed the plane.

Administration officials would not identify the airports that would be required to make major safety improvements, citing security reasons. But they said the list included several of the nation's busiest, and that the improvements would include new, round-the-clock security patrols and tightened electronic surveillance of the flight paths used for takeoffs and landings.

Bush administration officials said nationwide inspections, which have been carried out at about 80 airports by officials of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, demonstrated that a terrorist with a shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile weighing as little 30 pounds would find it relatively easy to evade security at many large airports and fire a missile that could bring down a passenger plane.

Administration officials stressed that they had no evidence to suggest that al-Qaida or other terrorist groups had managed to smuggle any of the small missiles into the United States, or that they intended to try.

Militants deny charges in attack on consulate

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Five suspected Islamic militants accused of orchestrating a car bomb that killed 12 people outside the U.S. Consulate here told a judge Saturday police extracted their confessions by torture.

Denying responsibility for the bombing, the defendants told the judge they were being used as "scapegoats" to ingratiate Pakistan with the U.S. government. They could be sentenced to death.

"We never gave any voluntary statements of confession," Mohammed Hanif said. "I was tortured, therefore this evidence should not be admissible."

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