Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Afghan Ambush; Fighting Rages in South

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and another was wounded Saturday in an ambush in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said.

The soldiers were on a reconnaissance patrol in Helmand province when they were attacked, said a statement from the headquarters of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Three Afghan soldiers were wounded, said an intelligence chief in southern Afghanistan.

The soldiers were inspecting a school and hospital being built with American funding, said Dad Mohammed Khan, the intelligence chief of Helmand.

A special forces soldier and an airman were killed and another special forces soldier was wounded when their four-vehicle convoy was ambushed while on reconnaissance patrol near Geresk, the U.S. military said in a statement from a U.S. military base north of the capital, Kabul. It did not identify the victims.

Four people on two motorcycles ambushed the U.S. vehicles and escaped, Khan said, identifying the assailants as fighters of the former Taliban regime ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in late 2001.

Army spokesman Col. Roger King said the U.S. servicemen were among fewer than 20 people in the convoy.

"They drove into a kill zone," King told The Associated Press.

The convoy sped out of the area as a gunfight ensued, King said.

Two days earlier, unidentified gunmen shot to death a water engineer working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Ricardo Munguia, 39, was killed when his car was intercepted on a dirt road while he was returning from Tarin Kot, in neighboring Uruzgan province, to the southern city of Kandahar.

Geresk is about 70 miles west of Kandahar.

Munguia was a citizen of both Switzerland and El Salvador. He was the first foreign aid worker killed since the Taliban was expelled.

The deaths bring to 18 the number of combat casualties suffered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

The last death occurred Dec. 21, when Army Sgt. Steven Checo, 22, of New York, was killed in a gunfight during a nighttime operation in the eastern province of Paktika, near the Pakistani border.

Meanwhile, U.S. special forces and hundreds of Afghan soldiers fought about 100 Taliban fighters in southern Uruzgan province, officials said.

Uruzgan province Gov. Haji Jan Mohammed told The Associated Press that 15 Taliban were killed and eight captured in the fighting in Sangisakh Shaila, 50 miles north of Kandahar. Six of Mohammed's men were wounded, he said.

Mohammed sent at least 400 soldiers to the fight and U.S. special forces were involved, he said.

Another 600 soldiers from neighboring Kandahar province were sent to the battle area, said provincial police official Shafiullah, who, like many Afghans, uses one name.

"The Taliban are using heavy weapons and we are trying to either kill or arrest them," Mohammed said.

The Norwegian military said two Norwegian F-16 fighter jets dropped four laser-guided bombs on targets northeast of Kandahar.

The fighters were on a routine patrol mission over Afghanistan when they were called to support coalition ground troops under fire, said a statement released in Oslo.

It was the third time Norwegian jets have engaged in combat in Afghanistan.

Earlier Saturday unidentified assailants opened fire on a small group of U.S. special forces soldiers Saturday near Khakrez, 27 miles northwest of Kandahar.

"The U.S. special forces were engaged; they attempted to break contact and called in air support," the U.S. military said in a statement from Bagram Air Base.

"The air support consisted of two Apache helicopters which were engaged by enemy ground fire. They returned fire."

The statement also said coalition F-16s rushed to Khakrez and dropped four bombs. No coalition casualties were reported.

Many Taliban are believed to be hiding in southern Afghanistan since they were ousted by a U.S.-led bombardment after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.