The Washington Post

Paul Wong
Afghanistan interim leader Amid Karzai stands among American flags yesterday in the Rose Garden of the White House, during his visit with Pres. Bush. <br><br>AP PHOTO

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan With a hail of bullets and grenades, about 100 Afghan troops and 20 U.S. Special forces stormed a hospital prison ward here early yesterday afternoon, killing six injured Arab fighters who had been barricaded inside for 50 days.

The 10-hour siege, which ended in an intense, 45-minute barrage of gunfire and grenade booms, wiped out the last known pocket of resistance in this southern Afghan city by members of the al-Qaida network allied with the collapsed Taliban militia and Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden.

But other groups of Taliban and al-Qaida forces are still believed to be operating in the surrounding countryside, and U.S. special forces, working with Afghan troops, have been conducting frequent raids on their suspected hideouts.

One such raid last week in a village 60 miles north of here proved controversial. American military officials called the attack a success, claiming the forces had killed 15 fighters and captured 27. But the raid drew protests from local Afghan leaders, who claimed the dead included civilians who had been negotiating the surrender of Taliban troops.

In yesterday”s siege at Mirwais Hospital, five Afghan troops were wounded before and during the final assault in which the attacking forces moved from room, hurling concussion grenades and then spraying gunfire. One Afghan soldier was shot in the head and sent to the U.S. base at Kandahar Airport for treatment. There were no American casualties.

Afghan and U.S. military forces said the Arabs had refused two separate orders to surrender since early morning and instead fought back fiercely with pistols and grenades. At least one Arab blew himself up with a grenade, and by 1:45 p.m., all six were dead.

“It is all over. They fought until the last drop of their blood,” said Khalid Pashtun, a senior advisor to the provincial governor, as he left the hospital in a truck full of Afghan troops shortly after the assault ended. “We gave them an ultimatum and we said their lives would be spared, but they would not listen. We had no other choice.”

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