KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The U.S. military was holding 27 prisoners Friday captured during a firefight that wounded one Army Special Forces soldier, while U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Afghanistan to bolster the post-Taliban government.
Army officials said the prisoners seized during a night-time attack on two Taliban compounds were ``most likely'' being held and interrogated at the U.S. base at Kandahar airport, where hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban members are detained, spokesman Capt. Tony Rivers said.
One U.S. soldier was wounded in the ankle during the attack, but several Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters were killed, officials said.
``There were casualties, but we don't keep body counts,'' Rivers told The Associated Press.
The military has refused to discuss the specifics of the mission, one of the few highly secret special forces operations to gain public notice. It took place in a mountainous region about 60 miles north of Kandahar on Wednesday, one focus of the hunt to crush survivors of Usama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network and their Taliban allies.
Rivers described the operation, which included an AC-130 gunship destroying a weapons cache, as a success.
``You've got 27 detainees and one soldier with a gunshot wound,'' Rivers said. ``Of course, we don't want soldiers with wounds.''
The soldier, who was not identified, was the first American battlefield casualty since Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Chapman was killed Jan. 4 in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan. Eleven U.S. troops have been killed in aviation crashes during the Afghan campaign.
The military initially said that an Al Qaeda leadership facility was attacked, but Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington that the compounds were occupied by Taliban, the radical Islamic movement that gave bin Laden bases in Afghanistan.
Special forces patrols have been hunting for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed cleric who is the most-wanted man after bin Laden.
With the country struggling to get back on its feet despite continued volatility, Annan arrived in Kabul on Friday to meet interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai, leader of the interim administration, and commanders of the British-led international peacekeeping force that polices the capital.
Annan conferred with chiefs of the U.N. agencies administering aid to Afghanistan, which needs everything after 23 years of war — schools, medical care, agriculture aid, roads, bridges and the clearance of millions of land mines that kill and main hundreds of people every year.
With the central government dependent on the goodwill of rival warlords to keep order in the provinces, calls have been mounting for the peacekeeping force to extend its mandate and deploy outside the capital.
Fighting between warlords in the early 1990s destroyed much of the country and paved the way for the Taliban to come to power. Tensions are simmering again in several areas.
Annan was in Pakistan on Thursday and travels to Iran later Friday, bringing a message for both countries to support Karzai's government. Pakistan and Iran have histories of backing rival warlords to influence events in Afghanistan, fueling civil war.
Pakistan largely created and backed the Taliban, but withdrew backing after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States, blamed on Al Qaeda. Pakistan has since become a pivotal ally in the U.S.-led military campaign.