Weapons netted in Afghan operation
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- "Operation Valiant Strike," the two-day-old U.S. anti-terrorism mission in Afghanistan, has netted weapons and captured suspects, coalition officials say.
About 1,000 U.S. soldiers are involved in the southeastern Afghanistan operation, targeting suspected al Qaeda and Taliban members.
The operation began when a platoon from the 82nd Airborne's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment parachuted into a mountain range just east of Kandahar Thursday, military officials said, and proceeded to search three villages.
The most significant find came in the village of Luikely. As a platoon searched a compound there, it came across weapons, uniforms, bandoliers, military sleeping bags, Taliban literature, Taliban recruiting cards and business cards.
The two men who owned the house that contained the items said they had nothing of the kind inside; they were taken into custody.
"Its not a stack of RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] like we usually find, but its pretty significant stuff, pretty new," said Capt. Andrew Zieseniss, commander of 2nd of the 504th company.
The platoon took the weapons away. The next morning, the entire company marched more than 11 miles (7 km) to another compound, where they encountered men claiming to be members of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF).
First Sgt. Craig Pinkley doubted that claim, because there were no reported AMF members in the area, and locals had complained that militia members had been charging them illegal taxes.
Flying over the area, the Army saw weapons the AMF are not allowed to have in the compound. Their explanations for the weapons were "weak," the military said, and two men in the compound were taken into custody.
Inside the compound, soldiers found stacks of 107mm rockets, the kind most commonly used against U.S. and coalition forces along the border.
"This is one less rocket that will be fired against U.S. forces," said Lt. Col. Charlie Flynn, adding the salvageable weapons would be removed and the others would be destroyed.
A platoon searched three houses in the village of Laday. One man there showed soldiers his weapons and was allowed to keep them, since he had claimed them and they were "simple, single-shot weapons," said First Sgt. Brian Severino.
In the other two houses, the owners falsely claimed they had no weapons, but when soldiers searched the homes and found them, they confiscated the munitions. The soldiers also found a brick of hash in one house.
Later, in the small village of Narai, elders not only welcomed the U.S. soldiers but invited them inside their homes for tea, the military said.
"Only one house in the over 100-family village had anything of value by the time lunch rolled around," military officials said.
The house had some rocket-propelled grenades and a few land mines; the man of the house said his brother may have left them there when he came to visit.
"Americans are coming for peace," said Shahghsy, 50, a Narai villager. "We like them. We like that they are here. Americans helped us to push the Russians out; we know the Americans care about us."
Shahghsy said the villagers have a simple life now.
"The Taliban were no help to the village," he said. "They killed people."
Also Thursday, platoon soldiers on foot chased two men who were running down a hillside, followed by two Apache helicopters.
The soldiers caught up with the men, who said they were sheep herders whose animals were frightened when the choppers flew by. The men said they started running because they were also scared.
"There was no hostile intent," said Severino. "The whole situation was innocent."
Akter Mohammad, one of the herders, said the villagers did not know what to make of the Americans because "they are mountain people, simple people."
"If they are coming to bring peace in Afghanistan, we are happy," said Mohammad. "I am happy with government, because now we have peace with this government."
Pinkley said he expects Operation Valiant Strike to continue for at least another 14 days, depending on events.
"The difficult thing about missions like this is not knowing who's who," Pinkley said. "Who is left over from the Taliban? Sometimes they say here AMF and there not; they say they work for the government and they don't."
He said the best part of the operation is finding large caches of weapons, because "it prevents future attacks."