WASHINGTON (AP) Three U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed and 19 wounded in Afghanistan yesterday when a U.S. bomb missed its Taliban target. The bomb, carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives, landed about 100 yards from the soldiers” position north of Kandahar, where the Taliban is making its last stand against Afghan opposition forces.

Paul Wong
A U.S. Marine CH-53 helicopter kicks up dust as it comes in for a landing behind another CH-53 yesterday morning at the Marine operations base in southern Afghanistan.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Pentagon officials said they could not immediately explain what went wrong in the deadliest “friendly fire” accident of the war. Whatever the cause, it illustrated the danger inherent in the kind of support U.S. forces are providing to Afghan fighters: calling in airstrikes on nearby enemy positions.

“This is one of the potentially most hazardous type of missions that we use as a military tactic,” said Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Five Afghan fighters also were killed in yesterday”s incident and an undetermined number were wounded.

The Pentagon identified those killed as Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn. Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass. and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California. All were members of the Army”s 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

All casualties were evacuated from the scene, first to a U.S. Marine base south of Kandahar and then out of Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai, the southern Pashtun leader and newly designated head of the provisional government in Afghanistan, was in the area where the bomb landed but was not seriously wounded, Pentagon officials said.

“I, along with the rest of American, grieve for the loss of life in Afghanistan,” President Bush said during an Oval Office appearance. “I want the families to know that they died for a noble and just cause.”

The Pentagon initially reported two were killed. A third died en route to a hospital. Officials said they had no information on the seriousness of the injuries or how many were Army or Air Force.

All 22 were described as special operations forces, but officials would not say whether they were Green Berets, Rangers, or other kinds of special operations troops. It appeared likely most were Green Berets.

The deaths bring to four the number of Americans killed inside Afghanistan in the two-month war. CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed Nov. 25 in a prison uprising while questioning forces captured in the fighting.

Several hundred U.S. special operations troops are in Afghanistan to assist the Afghan opposition forces. The Pentagon has credited them with helping turn the tide against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan last month by enabling more precise and effective U.S. bombing in the south they are heavily engaged in aiding a collection of anti-Taliban forces in a fierce fight for control of Kandahar.

U.S. officials familiar with the evolving battle for Kandahar said it appeared that the opposition forces were too few to initiate a final, climactic assault on the Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts inside the city. Nonetheless it remains the Pentagon”s strategy to let the opposition forces take the lead on the ground, rather than send in the Marines or other U.S. ground troops to finish the fight.

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