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Raid Signals Shift in US Tactics in Afghanistan - 2001-10-20

U.S. army special forces have launched a night-time raid in Afghanistan, signaling a shift in the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign following nearly two weeks of bombing. Taleban officials say they repelled the attack.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon says a U.S. helicopter on stand-by for search and rescue operations crashed in neighboring Pakistan, leaving two American soldiers dead.

More than 100 elite U.S. special operations troops are reported to have taken part in the nighttime raid in the Taleban stronghold of southern Afghanistan.

Unidentified defense officials are quoted as saying the attack lasted several hours and all the aircraft involved in ferrying troops for the hit and run attack cleared Afghan airspace and returned to base. Officials did not say if there were any casualties.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed in neighboring Pakistan when their helicopter crashed in what officials have called an accident. President Bush has expressed his condolences to the families and friends of the servicemen.

Pakistan's main government spokesman, General Rashid Qureshi, told VOA the helicopter was providing logistical support for the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. He refused to say where the crash took place.

A Taleban official in Islamabad says Taleban forces shot down the helicopter as it was crossing back into Pakistani airspace from Afghanistan. Taleban officials are also quoted as saying they repelled the overnight hit and run attack.

Pakistani officials have acknowledged that U.S. troops are using three bases in Pakistan, but they say the bases are only being used for search and rescue and other support, and not for launching attacks.

Pakistan's government has thrown its support behind the U.S. anti-terror effort, following the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. But many in this mainly Muslim country are uneasy over the campaign, and many people are angered by reports of civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, thousands of Afghan refugees have begun pouring into Pakistan, in an effort to escape the U.S. strikes. U.N. Refugee Agency official Peter Kessler says there are also reports of civil unrest. "People in the past week and days are speaking of increased banditry on roads and concerns over the possibility that they might lose their property, the overall breakdown in the civil situation there," he said.

Mr. Kessler says his agency is struggling to cope with the new arrivals, many of whom traveled without food and water. More than 3,500 refugees arrived in Pakistan's Baluchistan province from the Kandahar region, and U.N. officials say many more are on the way.