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Opening Salvo: British Troops Exchange Fire With Afghani Troops

Reposted from Australia's Daily Telegraph British recon troops exchanged fire today with Afghani troops in the first military exchange.
24 September 2001

BRITISH SAS troops have fought a gun battle in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters, marking the first confrontation in the war against terrorism.

A four-man SAS reconnaissance and intelligence team, known as a brick, exchanged automatic gunfire with a group of Taliban fighters when they unexpectedly encountered each other in the foothills of Kabul.

The gunfight is believed to have taken place on Friday but it is understood the SAS infiltrated Afghanistan five days earlier, the first deployment in the increasing military build-up in the region.

The SAS team entered Afghanistan from Tajikistan. The men's immediate task was to set up a communications link with their UK headquarters and to make an assessment of conditions on the ground in areas known to be dominated by those protecting Osama bin Laden.

The SAS force in Afghanistan is understood to have already linked up with forces of Jamiat-I-Islam, the military wing of the Northern Alliance which provides the only tangible opposition in Afghanistan to the hardline Taliban. Flotillas of warships continue to head towards the region, while planes carrying troops and surveillance equipment have made secret night landings in Afghanistan's neighbouring countries.

The US Defence Department also has called up a further 5000 reservists, as B-52 bombers and other fighters were deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

But the Taliban yesterday claimed to have shot down an unmanned spy plane, and a helicopter belonging to Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, using Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons.

Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said soldiers had shot down the plane taking pictures over Tashgurgan Pass in Samangan province, northwest of Kabul.

The Taliban has refused the United States's demand to hand over Osama bin Laden, who is suspected of orchestrating the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11. It has promised a holy war if it is attacked.

Reports also emerged that the British intelligence arm MI6 had pinpointed bin Laden's location, still in Afghanistan.

UK papers said the spy group traced bin Laden – leader of the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda – to a desolate region close to the town of Jalalabad on the country's north-east border with Pakistan.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said: "We know he is there, put it that way." When asked if bin Laden's exact whereabouts had been identified, he insisted: "We know where he is."

America is now firmly on a war footing with the military build-up intensifying following the arrival of the 82nd Airborne and 101st Air Assault Divisions at bases at Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

Of the more than 200 warplanes flowing to the Gulf region, 75 are on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which sailed from Virginia towards the Mediterranean last week. It joins the carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise, now stationed in or near the Gulf with 75 warplanes each.

The three ships are accompanied by battle groups totalling more than 20 warships, including cruisers and submarines capable of firing accurate cruise missiles with ranges of up to 1600km.

The rebel Northern Alliance, which already may be receiving assistance from special forces, claimed to have killed 50 Taliban fighters at the weekend.



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