Taliban Ground Fire Aborts
US Troop Landing Attempt
By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ground fire from Taliban forces and bad weather have forced elite helicopter-borne U.S. troops to abort recent attempts to enter Afghanistan, U.S. defense officials said on Thursday.
But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Pentagon officials also said teams of U.S. troops remained poised to soon enter the country and join fewer than 100 others already directing air strikes on Taliban forces and working with the opposition Northern Alliance.
"Ground fire was simply too heavy to unload the folks and so they went back and they'll try it again in a different landing area," Rumsfeld told reporters on the 26th day of U.S. air strikes against the Taliban and al Qaeda guerrillas.
He said that no American troops were hurt.
Rumsfeld did not mention helicopters at a Pentagon briefing, but other defense officials later told Reuters that helicopters carrying troops had aborted at least one mission because of sporadic fire from the ground.
"They took some ground fire and choose to pull out rather than get someone (shot) down in an area where it would be difficult to help," said one of the officials, who asked not to be identified.
"Remember, this is a fairly new situation (in Afghanistan), and we want to make sure we're on solid ground," the official added.
The officials refused to be specific about the number of attempts to enter the country, but also noted that foggy weather was a problem with winter descending on rugged Afghanistan.
"It was on the ingress leg (entering the country) that they took some ground fire," said one official, suggesting that the fire was mostly from small arms and had occurred before any helicopters attempted to land.
Rumsfeld had on Tuesday confirmed that fewer than 100 U.S. troops were already in northern Afghanistan working with the Northern Alliance, which is attempting to capture the Taliban-held capital of Kabul and key northern crossroads of Mazir-i-Sharif.
"We are going to be adding people to have a reasonable cluster of American special forces who are able to be in there, serve as liaison, assist with the communication, assist with the targeting," Rumsfeld said.
"I'd like to see, as soon as humanly possible, the numbers of teams go up by three or four times," he added. "We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go."
Other elite U.S. troops parachuted into southern Afghanistan on Oct. 20 in two hit-and-run night raids on an airfield and command center.
More than 100 Army Rangers and other Special Operations troops took part in the mission near Kandahar in which they collected computer discs and other information.


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