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US Soldier in Afghanistan Dies of Wounds Sustained in Firefight - 2002-12-21


A U.S. soldier has died in a gun battle in Afghanistan, the first American killed in combat in the country since May. Meanwhile, in a separate incident, at least seven people were killed when a German military helicopter crashed near Kabul.

U.S. military officials say the firefight started when "enemy forces" engaged a routine patrol of about a dozen soldiers in the eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistan border. They say an American soldier died of wounds he received in the attack.

It was the first battlefield death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan since May, but it was the third instance this week involving American casualties.

U.S. officials say one of their soldiers was injured by a rocket attack Friday in the northeastern region of Asadabad. He is reportedly in stable condition after medical treatment at Bagram air base.

Earlier this week, a grenade was thrown into a military vehicle carrying two American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter in the capital, Kabul. All three sustained injuries in that attack.

The latest attack occurred as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, arrived in Afghanistan for a daylong visit with his troops. Speaking to reporters at Bagram Air Base, he dismissed suggestions that the security situation in the country might be getting worse.

" We did have a tragic death last night. But that, I do not think, has anything to do with the situation," said General Myers. "The situation continues to get better over here. We are thinking very seriously about moving into what we call 'stability operations' in most of the country. There are still some very dangerous parts in the country, though, particularly in the eastern part of Afghanistan. But my assessment is that things continue to improve in Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan, and that we are making progress every day."

Despite the general's comments, there were indications that al-Qaida is increasing its targeting of American forces in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Several militants were arrested in Karachi this week, and some reports quoted Pakistani officials as saying the militants were preparing suicide attacks against U.S. and coalition forces staying at a hotel in the city.

Meanwhile, officials of the International Security Assistance Force, the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan, say a German military helicopter crashed near the Afghan capital, Kabul. They say those who died in the crash were mostly crew members. Some five-thousand foreign troops are deployed in Kabul to bring security to the war-ravaged city.