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Special Operations troops in commando raid

2 U.S. soldiers killed in Pakistan crash


WASHINGTON (CNN) - U.S. Special Operations troops launched and completed an overnight raid into Afghanistan, U.S. officials told CNN Friday night.

Two soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Pakistan while backing up the operation, officials said. The crash occurred as they prepared to perform search-and-rescue operations if necessary, they added.

More than 100 troops, including U.S. Army Rangers, flew in helicopters to their unspecified target near the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and stayed there for several hours, the officials said. There was no word on what the commandos' mission was or whether it was achieved, but apparently it involved a Taliban leadership target.

All of the helicopters are out of Afghan airspace now, the official said late Friday night, Washington time. The commandos' helicopters had been launched from the USS Kitty Hawk in the Arabian Sea, officials said. The commandos' mission was backed by fixed-wing aircraft, including AC-130 gunships. (Full story)

President Bush, on a visit to China, held a one-hour videoconference with his national security team Saturday morning to be briefed on the operation, an administration official told CNN.

Word of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan came as U.S. forces continued to pound the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar from the air Friday night. CNN sources in Kandahar reported heavy bombing, with a number of explosions. They also reported seeing U.S. AC-130 gunships over the city.

Speaking to reporters en route to a military base in Missouri, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan with some of the starkest terms to date, saying it "will be over when the Taliban and al Qaeda are gone." (Full story)

Meanwhile, the Bush administration began talks Friday with the United Nations' top official on Afghanistan regarding a future government in Kabul. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Richard Haas, the State Department director of policy planning, met Friday with Lakhdar Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who is now the chief U.N. envoy for Afghanistan. (Full story)

U.N. and U.S. administration officials say Brahimi's job will be to work with the various Afghan opposition groups to settle their differences and come up with a formula for a new government.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour talks to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about the military campaign against Afghanistan (October 18)

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CNN's Matthew Chance reports of numerous defections from the Taliban army coming to the side of the Northern Alliance (October 18)

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CNN Exclusive: Nic Robertson reports from Jalalabad under escort from the Taliban

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• Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said the United States believes it has effectively disrupted the ruling Taliban's ability to communicate. He said the fact that the Taliban ambassador had recently traveled from Islamabad to Kandahar was evidence to him that he could not speak to the Taliban leadership except face-to-face.

• On the ground, the rebel Northern Alliance and the Taliban continued to battle over the strategically important city of Mazar-e Sharif in the northwest, which alliance troops are trying to wrest from Taliban hands.

Rumsfeld said the Taliban are putting up stiff resistance and that "it would be unwise to think the outcome of the battle could be determined." He confirmed that the United States had given the Northern Alliance food, ammunition, supplies and even money.

• Earlier Friday, a U.S. official in Washington told CNN that elite American troops were on the ground in Afghanistan in a "liaison" mission with the Northern Alliance.

• International aid workers who traveled out of Kabul told CNN Friday that morale among the Taliban appears to still be good, despite nearly two weeks of U.S. air attacks. However, they disputed Taliban claims of civilian casualties in the capital. The aid workers said 10 civilians in Kabul had been killed in the U.S. bombing campaign. That figure is much lower than around 70 civilians the Taliban have claimed were killed in the city. Across Afghanistan, the Taliban say "around 500" civilians have been killed or injured. (Full story)

• Heavy U.S.-led airstrikes pounded Kandahar earlier Friday. Daytime raids occurred in Kabul, Al Jazeera reported; at least two bombs -- one described as a very heavy one -- were dropped. Bombing was also reported Thursday night in the eastern city of Jalalabad, where a TV station and terrorist training camps were believed to be among the targets.

• U.S.-led forces on Thursday attacked 18 planned target areas in Afghanistan, Stufflebeem said at a Pentagon news conference Friday. More than 90 strike aircraft were used in the missions, 75 of which were based on aircraft carrier warships.

• A college student arrested in San Diego, California, last month was charged with two counts of lying to a grand jury in connection with last month's terrorist attacks, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in a New York federal court Friday. The man, Osama Awadallah of Jordan, was one of three college students picked up by the FBI and held as material witnesses. His lawyer has maintained that Awadallah, as well as the two others, had nothing to do with the attacks. Awadallah was denied bail Friday afternoon.

• German authorities Friday issued an arrest warrant for a 24-year-old Moroccan, accusing him of mass murder and founding a terrorist group in connection with last month's attacks in the United States. The German federal prosecutor said the man, identified as Zakariya Essabar, helped start a terrorist ring with some of the hijackers. Authorities said his whereabouts are unknown. (Full story)

• An estimated 3,500 refugees from Afghanistan entered Pakistan on Friday through the Chaman border crossing, the United Nations told CNN, in what could be the largest number of refugees to cross here in one day since airstrikes began. It is not clear how such a large number of refugees entered the country through the border crossing, which remains officially closed.

• A claim that an aide to Osama bin Laden was killed in an allied bombing strike is being disputed. According to the Afghan Islamic Press, Abu Baseer al-Masri was killed not by an airstrike but when a grenade went off in his hands. He died in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hospital last Saturday, according to the account.

• In Quetta, Pakistan, on Friday, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, returned from meetings with Taliban leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and said there were no ground troops in Kandahar and he knew nothing about any troops in Afghanistan.

• Zaeef also said Friday that there has been no change in the Afghan regime's position of refusing to surrender suspected terrorist mastermind bin Laden, as demanded by the United States.

• U.S. President Bush, in Shanghai for a weekend summit at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, said he has won a firm commitment of support from China for the war against terrorism. Bush said Chinese President Jiang Zemin had pledged Beijing's cooperation on intelligence and in choking off the supply of funds to groups involved in terrorism. (Full story)

• Pakistan has turned over the use of its Dalbandin Air Base in the western part of the country to "coalition forces," high-ranking officials in Balochistan Province told CNN Friday. The base is located in the Balochistan desert west of Quetta and could be strategically important if U.S. and British forces needed a staging ground close to Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan about 125 miles (200 km) northwest of Quetta. (Full story)

• New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave reporters new data Friday on the toll from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The number of missing is 4,470, with 460 bodies found, he said. So far, 359,299 tons of debris have been removed from the site, including 66,797 tons of steel, in 24,321 truckloads.


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