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U.S. Completes Afghan Ground Assault

October 20, 2001

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 100 U.S. commandos carried out a secretive ground assault in the Taliban stronghold of southern Afghanistan, opening a new phase of the war on terrorism after nearly two weeks of punishing airstrikes, U.S. officials said Friday night. President Bush said American forces are ``circling the terrorists so we can bring them to justice.″

Officials said the helicopter-borne commandos returned to base after several hours inside the country. There was no word on possible casualties in the raid, but two people were killed when a U.S. helicopter prepared for search-and-rescue duty crashed accidentally in neighboring Pakistan.

Bush, after meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at an economic summit in Shanghai, China, said he grieved for the soldiers and their families.

``The important thing for me to tell the American people is these soldiers will not have died in vain,″ the president said.

The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would provide no details on the operation except to say it occurred early Saturday morning local time.

Bush also refused to comment on the raid, but said of the U.S. operation in general: ``I am satisfied we are making very good progress. We are dismantling the Taliban defenses. ... We are destroying terorists’ hideaways. We are slowly but surely circling the terrorists so we can bring them to justice.″

Earlier in the day, officials had confirmed that special forces were in northern and southern Afghanistan, searching for Taliban targets to strike and searching for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants.

The use of small numbers of U.S. troops near Kandahar, which in effect is the Taliban headquarters, marked a shift to a broader range of military activities _ overt and covert _ that President Bush says is necessary to win the war.

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