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CHOCO
Dec 17th, 2002, 09:01 PM
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U.S. Troops Hurt in Afghan Grenade Attack
Two U.S. Soldiers, Interpreter Hurt As Grenade-Throwing Attackers Ambush Jeep in Afghan Capital

The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan Dec. 17
Attackers ambushed two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter at a busy corner outside the capital's Blue Mosque on Tuesday, wounding all three with a grenade thrown at their unmarked jeep.

Kabul's police chief said two men were arrested. One said later during questioning witnessed by journalists that he attacked the Americans because "they were laughing at women."

A policeman at the scene, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he saw a boy throw a grenade at the Americans' gray, Russian-made jeep. A second man also tried to throw a grenade but was tackled by a fruit vendor, the officer said.

Afghanistan's interior minister linked the attack in the heart of Kabul to the al-Qaida terrorist network, although he offered no specific evidence. There have been frequent attacks on U.S. bases in eastern Afghanistan, but attacks on American troops in Kabul are rare.

Both Americans were in stable condition, and the interpreter suffered only light wounds, said British Maj. Gordon Mackenzie, a spokesman for the 4,800-soldier international peacekeeping force that patrols Kabul. They were reported at the German hospital, which has the city's best medical facilities.

Lt. Tina Kroske, a U.S. military spokeswoman at Bagram Air Base north of the city, would not identify the soldiers. She said one suffered injuries to the head and "in the lower extremities," while the second had shrapnel wounds in his lower right leg.

Interior Minister Taj Mohammed Wardak said on state TV that authorities were investigating, but he accused the attackers of having ties to al-Qaida.

"Some of the madrassas on the other side of the border, they're training these kids for terrorist actions," Wardak said, referring to Islamic religious schools in Pakistan.

"There's no doubt that these people had links to al-Qaida," he added, although he didn't say what evidence he had.

Kabul Police Chief Basir Salangi identified the two arrested men as Amir Mohammed of Khost in eastern Afghanistan and Ghulam Saki of Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province. Mohammed had at least two grenades in his pocket when he was arrested, Salangi said.

With journalists present during an interrogation at a police station, Wardak asked Mohammed why he attacked the Americans.

"They were laughing at women," Mohammed said, without further explanation.

Saki, the other detainee, said: "I wasn't involved in this. Everyone was running away and I was running, too."

As U.S. soldiers in four Humvees armed with heavy machine-guns guarded the ambush site, six Americans in flak jackets inspected the jeep with flashlights, taking digital pictures.

The only apparent damage to the jeep was a cracked windshield. Blood trickled down the left side and a small pool of blood was on the ground on the other side. The jeep was then towed away by an Afghan truck.

At Bagram, a U.S. military spokesman, Col. Roger King, said there would be no change in the state of alert of American troops in the capital, but soldiers would be on the lookout for any new attacks.

"It does increase the individual alertness of the soldiers because they recognize that this type of action can happen because Afghanistan remains a dangerous place to operate," he said.

U.S. troops frequently drive through Kabul in unmarked vehicles. Their most visible presence is around the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy compound.

Tuesday's attack was the first since a Nov. 28 incident in which a sniper wounded a U.S. Special Forces soldier in the leg in eastern Afghanistan. The shooter escaped.

Fifteen U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat or hostile situations in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign began last autumn.