Oklahoman one of two 82nd Airborne soldiers killed in Afghan gun battle

Saturday, April 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) -- A second American soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division died Saturday from wounds suffered in a gun battle with rebel fighters in eastern Afghanistan, a military spokesman said.

The soldiers died from wounds suffered during a battle on Friday, said Col. Roger King at Bagram Air Base, the headquarters of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

Pvt. Jerod R. Dennis, 19, of Oklahoma was killed Friday, the Department of Defense announced Saturday. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Bragg, N.C.

"Afghanistan continues to be a combat zone," King said.

Thirty coalition soldiers have died in combat since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, King said. There are 11,500 soldiers from 23 countries still in Afghanistan.

Later Saturday, an honor guard of 100 helmeted soldiers in desert fatigues saluted as pallbearers lifted two coffins wrapped in American flags into a C-130 transport plane. The soldiers' bodies were being flown to Dover, Del., by way of bases in Uzbekistan and Germany.

The deaths occurred after U.S. soldiers engaged at least 20 rebels in a brief gunbattle at Shkin, in eastern Afghanistan, King said. It was not clear if the enemy were holdouts from the Taliban regime, fugitive members of the al-Qaida terrorist network or loyalists of renegade Afghan commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, King said.

The area near the Pakistani border has been one of the most active in the country, with frequent rocket attacks on U.S. bases.

Four other U.S. soldiers injured in the fighting were in stable condition at a hospital at the base, just north of the capital, Kabul, King said.

The soldiers were investigating reported activity by a group of men armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47 assault rifles.

"We had a report of suspicious activity," King said. "It was a place where rockets had been fired before, so a unit went out to take a look around."

The two sides, who were similar in size, became locked in a "short, sharp" firefight that ended when the rebels scattered and ran in the direction of the Pakistan border, only 1,000 yards away, King said.

At least three enemy fighters were killed.

King said a second group of 35 U.S. soldiers was quickly called in, and two F-16 fighter jets, an A-10 fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships scrambled to the area, but were unable to lock onto any targets.