AFGHANISTAN Clash leaves U.S. soldier dead
An American aid worker escaped a kidnapping attempt.
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A U.S. soldier and a former Afghan militia leader were killed Sunday when American troops clashed with gunmen while searching the leader's compound in western Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
Meanwhile, an American aid worker escaped an apparent kidnap attempt by a group of gunmen in the capital, Kabul.
The troops came under attack from "an unknown number of enemy forces" while searching a compound near Shindand Airfield in Herat province and returned fire, a U.S. military statement said.
"The Afghan citizen died at the scene," the statement said. "The U.S. soldier was wounded in the attack and ... died a short time later at the airfield."
The dead soldier was the first U.S. combat casualty this year and at least the 117th here since Enduring Freedom, America's anti-terrorism operation, began in late 2001. The soldier's name was withheld pending notification of family members.
The military also did not identify the dead Afghan or say whether he was a suspected militant or a bystander.
But a local militia commander, Akhtar Mohammed Husseini, said the compound belonged to a former militia leader named Mullah Dost.
"There was fire from both sides. Mullah Dost was killed along with his wife, and two of their children were injured," Husseini told The Associated Press by telephone. "The Americans wanted to search his house, but we don't know who fired first."
Ziauddin Mahmoudi, the provincial police chief, gave a slightly different account, saying Dost and one of his daughters were killed in the pre-dawn shootout.
Mahmoudi said Dost was a veteran of Afghanistan's war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s who later aligned with the Taliban. He said Dost also served briefly as police chief in Shindand district last year.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Mark McCann said he had information about only two fatalities but no further details.
The soldier's death was the first since Operation Lightning Freedom, the latest phase of the American military operation in Afghanistan, began after Hamid Karzai's inauguration last month as the country's first directly elected president.
U.S. and Afghan government forces have been stationed at Shindand Airfield, 400 miles west of the capital, Kabul, since intervening in August to halt bloody factional fighting in the region near the Iranian border.
Dozens of Afghan militiamen died in the battles, which resulted in the ouster of local strongman Ismail Khan as governor of Herat province. There were no American victims.
McCann said Sunday's "routine" search was part of the military's effort to create a stable environment for parliamentary elections expected to take place in April or May.
Gunmen tried to abduct an American aid worker in the Afghan capital on Sunday afternoon but gave up when he resisted, the victim and Afghan police said.
About four men confronted the elderly American in a quiet back-street in Kabul, snatching his bag and trying to force him into a waiting car, local police official Sher Hussein said.
The victim told the AP the men "wanted to put me in the car." He said he was unhurt and that his bag contained only a few documents and some food, but he declined to give his name or give further details.
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