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Marines near Kandahar on high alert

CAMP RHINO, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. Marines stationed near Kandahar went on high alert late Friday, one day after killing seven people and destroying three vehicles in clashes with what were believed to be Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, according to the Marine Corps.

Cobra helicopter gunships set off Friday from an airstrip at Camp Rhino, the desert base southwest of Kandahar containing more than 1,000 Marines and allied troops. The Cobras joined U.S. vehicles hunting for an enemy convoy near the compound's perimeter, but found nothing, according to Marines spokesmen.

The previous night, Marines attacked a Taliban convoy of vehicles, including at least one armored vehicle, that was attempting to run a roadblock near Kandahar.

A vehicle approached the Marines at high speed and the Marines opened fire, destroying it, said Capt. David Romley, speaking to reporters at Camp Rhino. There were also fighters on foot, Romley said.

The Marines attacked with tactical mobility vehicles and light armored vehicles armed with machine guns and 25-millimeter chain guns.

"This is the first interaction between Marines and enemies on the ground in Afghanistan," said Maj. Ralph Mills at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

Mills said the Marines were setting up and enforcing the roadblocks to prevent the enemy forces from leaving and entering Kandahar.

Warplanes also participated the fight, but their exact impact was uncertain.

According to Romley, two fixed-wing aircraft destroyed two other enemy vehicles. But Mills said the airstrike destroyed one enemy vehicle.

In a separate incident, Romley said other Taliban or al Qaeda troops tried to probe the perimeter of Camp Rhino, using flares to light up the area. Marines opened fire with mortars, he said.

"Whether or not there are dead enemies is still to be determined," Romley said. A patrol would be sent out to assess the damage, he said.

Marines from the 15th and 26th Marine Expeditionary Units seized Camp Rhino south of Kandahar on November 25.


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