U.S. airstrikes helped subdue Taliban prison riot

Posted: Monday, November 26, 2001

WASHINGTON -- A first wave of U.S. Marines landed near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on Sunday as American airstrikes helped subdue an uprising by Taliban prisoners of war at a fortress in northern Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

The Marines, numbering in the ''low hundreds,'' were to be followed by several hundred more from Navy ships in the Arabian Sea, a senior defense official said Sunday night. The official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the Marines landed by helicopter southwest of Kandahar, and that additional Marines were to arrive by C-130 transport aircraft.

The official would not discuss the Marines' intended mission, except to say they would perform ''a variety of functions'' and may number more than 1,000 within a few days. Kandahar is the last major Taliban holdout against opposition uprisings throughout the country.

Hundreds of Taliban prisoners were killed in the prison uprising near Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, but U.S. military forces were all accounted for, Pentagon officials said.

A U.S. government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a Central Intelligence Agency operative was wounded in the uprising.

The U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Afghanistan, declined to say if U.S. forces were in the fortress when the fighting broke out. But a German television crew at the scene of the fight taped a U.S. special forces soldier calling in U.S. airstrikes on the fortress near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

The U.S. soldier, who identified himself only as David, is shown on the video from Germany's ARD network. ''I don't know how many Americans there were,'' he says on the tape. ''I think one was killed, but I'm not sure. There were two of us at least, me and some other guy.''

A Pentagon spokesperson, Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan, said later that no U.S. military personnel were killed in the uprising. ''All our military forces in Afghanistan are accounted for,'' he said.

Another U.S. official said two or three U.S. soldiers were involved and had called in U.S. airstrikes.

Tom Crispell, a spokesman for the CIA, which has operatives working with anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan, said the agency had no comment on the operation.

The Taliban fighters, who had been captured near the militia's last northern stronghold of Kunduz, carried concealed weapons and tried to fight their way out of the fortress, said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dan Stoneking.

Both Central Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Dave Culler and Stoneking said U.S. aircraft bombed the fortress during the fighting. Witnesses said the bombs hit an area of the compound where the Taliban fighters were.

The U.S. special forces troops in Afghanistan work with anti-Taliban military commanders, including Rashid Dostum, whose forces held the prisoners. The U.S. troops also carry radios and other equipment to call for and guide U.S. airstrikes against Taliban forces.

The Taliban soldiers appeared to have planned the battle, ''which appears to be a suicide mission on their part,'' Culler said. Most of the Taliban fighters were not Afghans and were from Pakistan and Chechnya, Stoneking said.

Dostum brought in about 500 of his fighters to quell the uprising, Stoneking said.

Foreign fighters in Kunduz had insisted on security guarantees following reports of summary executions by the northern alliance in Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul, the Afghan capital.

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