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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 12:39 GMT
Al-Qaeda 'executed US serviceman'
A US helicopter flies over the Paktia province town of Gardez, Afghanistan
Helicopters take special forces across the mountains
The American who was captured when he fell from a helicopter in Afghanistan was killed deliberately, the US ground commander has said.

Enlarge image Click for a detailed map of the Gardez operation

Senior military officials have begun giving details of the series of events near Gardez on Monday that led to the deaths of seven US troops.

Four helicopters were involved and there was "very intense fighting" for several hours during the Operation Anaconda mission that caused America's worst casualties of the war.

Ground commanders saw some of the action on a video feed from an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and have been debriefing those involved to piece together exactly what happened.

Major-General Frank Hagenbeck said he saw Petty Officer Neil Roberts being dragged off by three suspected members of al-Qaeda.

When the body of the 32-year-old Navy SEAL was recovered several hours later, it was discovered he had been shot.

"All the evidence is that the al-Qaeda executed him," General Hagenbeck said.

Air Force Brigadier-General John Rosa said Petty Officer Roberts was in the first of two separate operations involving a total of four MH-47 Chinook helicopters.

A US bomber streaks over the Paktia province town of Gardez, Afghanistan
The US is bombing Gardez as well as putting troops on the ground

At 0300 local time on Monday (2230 GMT) two Chinooks were deployed to take special forces into the battle zone.

  • One helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and was forced down.

  • As it lifted off, the American sailor fell out.

  • The damaged helicopter landed a short distance away.

  • The second helicopter also came under attack and left the area.

  • It was flown to where the first had landed and picked up the crew and passengers. The Navy SEAL was found to be missing during a headcount.

  • The men from the downed helicopter were taken to a safe zone.

  • The second aircraft returned to land its special forces and look for the missing fighter.

    Second operation

    At 0900 local time the second mission, again with two helicopters, began in the same area.

  • One helicopter was hit by suspected machine-gun-fire and a rocket-propelled grenade.

  • It crash-landed or experienced a hard landing.

    Operation Anaconda deaths
    Army: Specialist Marc Anderson, 30, of Florida; Private Matthew Commons, 21, of Nevada; Sergeant Bradley Crose, 27, of Florida; Sergeant Philip Svitak, 31, of Missouri; Chief Warrant Officer Stanley Harriman, 34, of North Carolina.
    Navy:Petty Officer Neil Roberts, 32, of California
    Air Force:Tech Sergeant John Chapman, 36, of Texas; Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, 26, of California.

  • Troops from the helicopter became involved in a gun battle with fighters on the ground.

  • Six US personnel were killed and 11 injured in shooting that lasted three or four hours.

  • The second helicopter, also under fire, disgorged its special forces and left the area.

  • Rescues were attempted for at least 12 hours.

  • When rescuers were finally able to reach the dead and injured, they also found the body of Petty Officer Roberts.

    Another soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Stanley Harriman, was killed the day before.

    General Rosa said 40 troops had been injured, but 18 had already returned to duty.

    Seven of the dead have been flown to Germany ahead of a return to the US.

    Hundreds of servicemen and women have saluted the flag-draped coffins.

  • See also:

    05 Mar 02 | South Asia
    US forces killed in Afghanistan
    05 Mar 02 | South Asia
    In pictures: Assault on al-Qaeda
    04 Mar 02 | Americas
    The Chinook: Versatile warhorse
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