US fighter planes bombed a suspected Taliban compound in mountains in eastern Afghanistan in an area where an elite American military team has been missing for five days, a US military spokesman said yesterday.
"We conducted an airstrike on a target we deemed we had to hit immediately. The target was an enemy compound in Kunar province," US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jerry O'Hara said. "The bombing was done using precision guided munitions. The target objective was intelligence driven."
He said a "battle damage assessment is ongoing" and declined to speculate on casualties from the attack at dusk Friday. O'Hara also declined to say if the airstrike was directly related to the missing military team. He said earlier yesterday that rescuers, who are desperately scouring the mountains near Asadabad town, Kunar province, close to the Pakistani border, have found no sign of the missing team.
A purported Taliban spokesman claimed Friday that militants had captured one of the men.
Meanwhile in central Afghanistan, 18 rebels and two Afghan soldiers were killed in an assault on a Taliban hide-out in mountains where about 100 insurgents were thought to be camped, Uruzgan provincial Governor Jan Mohammed Khan said. The operation comes after fighting in the region left 25 people dead, including nine tribal elders who Taliban rebels kidnapped and then killed, apparently in retaliation for the deaths of their own.
The loss of the American military team in remote eastern mountains worsened the already stinging blow suffered by the US military after 16 troops were killed on Tuesday aboard the MH-47 Chinook chopper, and comes as the US scrambles to deal with an insurgency that threatens three years of progress toward peace.
US forces were using "every available asset" to search for the missing men, O'Hara said. The troops are a small team from the special operations forces, said military officials. The downed helicopter had been trying to "extract the soldiers" Tuesday when it went into the mountains.
"All our hopes are that we find our missing servicemembers. On top of those hopes are actions on the ground looking for them," O'Hara said. "It's a very demanding area: Very mountainous, very wooded and the likelihood of enemy contact is probable."
The Taliban claim to have captured one of the men came from purported spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi. He said a "high-ranking American" was caught in the same area as where the helicopter went down. The loss of the helicopter, the missing men and the fierce clashes in central Afghanistan follow three months of unprecedented fighting that has killed about 495 suspected insurgents, 49 Afghan police and soldiers, 134 civilians, and 45 US troops.