ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – U.S. forces continued pounding targets around Afghanistan on Saturday, focusing many strikes around the area where American and Taliban troops fought their first battle just hours earlier.
Sources said a number of targets were being hit near the city of Kandahar, not far from the site where two U.S. servicemen were killed when a helicopter crashed on the Pakistani side of the border on Friday night.
Pakistani sources said the helicopter came down near the southwestern airbase of Dalbandin, a local official said on Saturday. The base had just recently been opened to the U.S. for use in the Afghan operation.
"The helicopter is down in the Dalbandin area," said an official with Pakistan's security service. The crash area is about 40 miles from the border, he said.
U.S. Officials would provide little detail on the raid, declining to say whether the mission was considered successful. They did say that the helicopter that crashed did not take part in Friday night's battle between about 100 U.S. special forces troops and Taliban soldiers. U.S. sources said the battle, outside Kandahar, lasted more than an hour before the American troops withdrew to an undisclosed location.
However, a defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the commandos left Afghan airspace by helicopter and returned to base after several hours inside the country. The helicopter that crashed was flying above Pakistan and ready to support a rescue mission, and had not crossed into Afghanistan, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The U.S. troops acted against a specific target near Kandahar, sources said, though it's not clear if the mission succeeded. A Taliban spokesman said Saturday that their forces had successfully repelled the attack, but that report also could not be confirmed.
Afghan and Pakistani sources said the U.S. incursion came near Baba Sahib mountain outside of Kandahar city at around midnight local time. The troops were there for several hours and were reportedly supported by fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters.
Asked about the U.S. reports that a helicopter crashed in Pakistan during operations linked to the lightning overnight raid, Education Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said: "We don't rule out the possibility of shooting it down."
President Bush, speaking at a summit of Pacific nations in Shanghai, China, declined to give any specifics about the battle in Afghanistan. He did speak about the helicopter crash, saying "the most important thing to tell the American people these people will not have died in vain."
Bush said he was satisfied at the pace of operations in Afghanistan. "We are dismantling the Taliban defenses. ... We are destroying terrorists hideaways. We are slowly but surely circling the terrorists so we can bring them to justice."
Officials also said Americans should expect to hear more reports of U.S. special forces’ involvement in Afghanistan in the coming days and weeks. But because surprise and deception are critical, officials have declined to discuss specifics.
Meanwhile, the bombing continued in other cities around Afghanistan Saturday.
Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek warlord who is a Northern Alliance commander, told The Associated Press on Friday his forces have been holding talks with several U.S. military personnel this week near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, just south of the border with Uzbekistan, where U.S. forces are stationed.
Dostum said his discussions with the Americans centered on delivering humanitarian aid to Dara-e-Suf, an enclave of opposition resistance south of Mazar-e-Sharif.
U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes have dropped more than 500,000 ration packages in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials are hoping to make overland deliveries, which could get more aid to the needy more quickly.
The latest action came the day after Taliban officials repeated their refusal to hand Usama bin Laden over to the United States.
"The issue of Usama has not changed," Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, told a news conference after returning from a week-long visit to Kandahar. "It is a matter of our faith – we might as well change our faith."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.