U.S. Attacks Compound In South Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan?U.S. special forces attacked an enemy compound in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, capturing or killing a number of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, U.S. officials said. One American was wounded in the ankle.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, threats of clashes between rival warlords menaced the fragile peace, and a local governor accused Iran of sending vehicles and weapons into the country to undermine the new interim government of Hamid Karzai.

The firefight erupted when U.S. forces struck an al Qaeda and Taliban “leadership facility” about 60 miles north of Kandahar, Pentagon officials said in Washington.

Enemy forces were killed and 27 people were captured, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. An AC-130 gunship destroyed a large cache of weapons and ammunition.

“We initially thought it was al Qaeda leadership, but once it was raided we found it was mainly Taliban leadership” in the compound, Myers said.

Myers and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to say how many enemy fighters were killed or provide many details on the operation.

The soldier, who was not identified, was hit in the ankle by enemy fire Wednesday afternoon during the clash, said Navy Cmdr. Dan Keesee, a Central Command spokesman in Tampa, Fla. He was evacuated to a medical facility in the area and is in stable condition.

In Kandahar, a statement by the U.S. command said the soldier was wounded while “conducting combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.”

The injury was the first American battlefield casualty in Afghanistan since Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman was killed Jan. 4.

In the southern city of Kandahar, the local governor, Gul Agha, accused Iran of sending vehicles and weapons into Afghanistan to undermine Karzai’s government. Iran is allied with warlord Ismail Khan, a longtime foe of the ethnic Pashtuns who rule Kandahar.

Agha denied claims that he has sent fighters toward Herat, Khan’s stronghold, in western Afghanistan.

“We know the Iranian government is sending in vehicles and weapons against Afghanistan,” Agha told a pro democracy rally attended by about 5,000 people. “We haven’t sent any militias against them. We are waiting for the interim government of Prime Minister Karzai. I have been in contact with him. Whatever he says, I will do.”

The United States has warned Iran to not meddle in Afghanistan, citing reports that Tehran has sent pro Iranian fighters and money into the country that would destabilize the U.S.-backed central government in Kabul that is still struggling to find its feet after a month in power.

Iran, Pakistan and Russia have long tried to influence events in their volatile neighbor. Tehran was particularly hostile to the former ruling Taliban, which was founded in Kandahar and imposed an extreme brand of Sunni Islam that trampled on Shiite Muslims supported by Tehran.

Fighters and commanders training in Kandahar with a newly created national army said that 2,000 to 2,500 fighters had been sent toward Herat in recent days, ostensibly to fight remnants of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terror network.

U.S. special forces troops and their Afghan allies were in Helmand province, between Kandahar and Herat, two days ago conducting house-to-house searches for Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed Taliban leader who made Afghanistan a base of operations for bin Laden. No trace of him was found.

Eastern Afghanistan near Khost is a thicket of factional feuding and formerly a major al Qaeda training center.