SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN (AP) -- U.S. Marines attacked a Taliban convoy Friday, killing seven fighters -- including al-Qaida loyalists -- in the Americans' first offensive ground action since setting up base in southern Afghanistan.
Three Taliban vehicles approached a ''hunter-killer'' team of Marines on heavily armed Humvees near the city of Kandahar, and the Marines attacked from the ground and from the air, Capt. David Romley said. He said no Marines were injured.
''The enemy were shot dead,'' the Marines spokesman said. ''The forces killed were believed to be al-Qaida and Taliban forces.''
Some of the Taliban and al-Qaida forces jumped out of their vehicles, he said. The Marines on the ground destroyed one of the vehicles, and called for air support that destroyed the two others, he said. It was unclear whether the aircraft came from the Marine airstrip or were based elsewhere.
Romley said it was unclear whether the Marines came under enemy fire. He said the bodies of the seven dead had not been recovered.
Later Friday, three Cobra attack helicopters scrambled after reports came in of an approaching convoy and the American base was place on heightened alert. It was unclear how far the convoy was from the base or whether it presented a substantial threat.
As they dug into their fighting holes near Camp Rhino, the Marines described their emotions after Friday's early morning combat.
''It's a feeling, adrenaline takes over your body, you don't have time to worry,'' said Staff Sgt. Alejandro Quiroz of National City, Calif.
Cpl. Jared Lovell of Lancaster, Calif., said it was ''a moment I was proud to be a Marine.''
The Marines said they fired 81-mm mortars at the enemy, but did not know if they hit their targets. The mortars have a range of about three miles.
The specific location of the confrontation wasn't revealed, but Romley said it occurred near Kandahar, birthplace and last bastion of the Taliban. The Taliban fled the city Friday.
Romley said the attack was the Marines' first offensive ground operation since seizing a desert airstrip as Forward Operating Base Rhino on Nov. 25.
On the Marines' second day at the desert base, Cobra helicopter gunships from the base helped U.S. Navy jets attack a suspected hostile convoy that passed nearby.
The Marines also reported enemy forces around the base itself, which went on alert Thursday night after lookouts spotted people both in vehicles and on the ground ''probing the perimeter of the base'' in several locations, Romley said.
The people fired flares in the general direction of the Marines base, and the Marines responded by shooting illumination rounds into the night sky and firing mortars and an automatic grenade launcher into the desert, Romley said.
Small arms fire reverberated through the desert base along with the crisp blast of outgoing mortar rounds. Flares lit up the flat, dusty desert around Camp Rhino. Journalists crouched in trenches could see no incoming fire. However, they heard shouting outside the camp and the sound of gunfire. Helicopters made sweeps overhead in the clear night sky.
Romley said the probing lasted several hours, adding that ''hunter-killer teams'' were sent to search for the enemy. No Marines were hurt in the incident, and it was unclear whether there were casualties among the enemy forces.
The Marines, which U.S. officials have said number about 1,300, include the 15th and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Units, equipped with heavily armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons.
Defense Department rules governing the journalists' presence in the camp forbid reporting on exact operational measures.
EDITOR'S NOTE: David Martin is a photographer with The Associated Press who is part of a media pool at Base Rhino.
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