WASHINGTON – The father of a 32-year-old CIA officer killed in action in Afghanistan called his son a hero Wednesday.
Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann of Winfield, Ala., was killed in the prison fortress riot at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, the CIA said Wednesday. He was the first American to die in combat there.
"Someone has got to be willing to do the things other people don't want to do," said his father, Johnny Spann Sr. "We are proud of his dedication."
Spann left behind a widow and three children.
A veteran of the Marine Corps, Spann joined the CIA in June 1999.
U.S. officials recovered his body Wednesday, several hours after Northern Alliance rebels backed by U.S. airstrikes and special forces quelled rioting by Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners.
CIA Director George Tenet said in a statement that Spann, who worked for the agency's Directorate of Operations, "was where he wanted to be: on the frontlines serving his country."
Tenet called Spann an American hero and said his fellow officers should "continue the mission that Mike Spann held" sacred.
"And so we will continue our battle against evil with renewed strength and spirit," Tenet said.
The flag outside CIA headquarters at McLean, Va., flew at half-staff.
Four Americans, all military personnel, have been killed in connection with the fighting in Afghanistan, but not in combat situations. All died in accidents outside the country. Two were killed in a helicopter crash in Pakistan. Eight journalists have also died.
The CIA has been running covert operations in Afghanistan alongside the more public military effort in the 7-week-old war. CIA officers are believed to have been providing weapons, money and intelligence to rebel groups opposing the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as interrogating prisoners captured during the fighting.
The riot at the prison began Sunday when hundreds of Pakistanis, Chechens, Arabs and other non-Afghans, who had fought with the Taliban, were brought to the fortress after the weekend surrender of Kunduz, the Islamic militia's last stronghold in the north.
Once inside, the men broke loose, stormed the armory and rose up against their alliance captors.
Spann was in the complex where Taliban prisoners were being held and questioned, the CIA said.
Hundreds of inmates held out for days, despite U.S. bombing and assault by thousands of alliance fighters. U.S. special forces and other troops, believed to be British, took part in the battle and coordinated airstrikes.
Five U.S. soldiers were seriously wounded Monday when a U.S. bomb went astray, exploding near the Americans. They were evacuated to a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
The alliance recaptured most of the prison by Tuesday, but a last few fighters were holding out in the deepest recesses of the prison. Hundreds of prisoners and dozens of alliance fighters were believed dead.
Two CIA officers died in the line of duty in 1998, previously the most recent deaths of agency employees. No information has been released about their identities or the circumstances of their deaths.
Since the agency's creation, 78 CIA officers and employees have died or been killed in the line of duty, agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said. Each has a star on the wall in the lobby of the agency's main building.
Slightly more than half of the stars have a name tied to them. The identities of the rest are kept secret.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.