U.S. Soldiers Raid Afghan Village in Search of Al Qaeda, Taliban Guerrillas

U.S. troops poured into a mountain village in eastern Afghanistan (search) to capture a group of Taliban (searchor Al Qaeda (searchfighters, but the suspected guerrillas appeared to have left before the Americans arrived, officials said.

The two-day mission, dubbed Operation Dragon Fury, began Sunday in Shahi Kot in Nangarhar province, 85 miles southeast of the capital and involved about 500 U.S. troops.

As the American forces arrived in helicopters, they spotted men fleeing the area. U.S. troops arrested four men in the village, placing hoods over their heads before taking them away.

"If they were not actually Taliban or Al Qaeda members, they would appear to have been facilitators," U.S. Army Lt. Michael Swift said Tuesday as the men were being questioned in a field.

Separately, a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter crashed Tuesday while supporting a separate combat operation near Orgun, 105 miles south of Kabul, the military said in a statement from its headquarters at Bagram Air Base. The two American pilots were not injured.

"It is not believed the crash was caused by hostile fire. However, the cause of the incident is under investigation," the statement said.

The operation that ended Monday was one of the largest American since Anaconda, the March 2002 battle between U.S. and Al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-e-Kot Valley.

Before setting out in a fleet of helicopters, U.S. Maj. Jack Marr told reporters that the area they were headed to was "potentially hostile."

"Intelligence sources have indicated there is a cell of Al Qaeda or Taliban operating in the mountains," Marr said. "This is one of the hottest areas in Afghanistan. It's the kind of environment in which we would expect to find a lot of men but not many women and children."

Elsewhere, a group of Afghan soldiers came under attack by suspected Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, sparking a one-hour gunfight that left one Taliban dead, a senior official said.

The fighting occurred late Tuesday at Loi Karez, about 60 miles northeast of Kandahar, said district chief Fazaluddin Agha. He said the Taliban took advantage of darkness and escaped into the nearby mountains of Shinarai -- not far from neighboring Pakistan.

On Monday, government troops also killed four suspected Taliban fighters and arrested five others after a battle at Arghasan, a remote mountain district about 80 miles northeast of the southern city of Kandahar, said Fayaz Khan, a local government official.