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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 4, 2005

Hawai'i units in Afghanistan drive

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

The new year has brought more fighting in Afghanistan as Combined Joint Task Force 76, headed by Maj. Gen. Eric Olson from Hawai'i, presses an unusual winter offensive.

The offensive, which involves 18,000 U.S. troops, began in December during the early stages of another harsh Afghanistan winter, when rebels traditionally lie low and resupply.

One goal is to keep militants on the run and to prevent them from being able to plan attacks for spring elections.

Col. Gary Cheek, who commands several thousand soldiers and 1,000 Hawai'i Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment on Afghanistan's eastern border, said U.S. troops will be "relentless" in the pursuit of insurgents.

Afghanistan's tough winter conditions — a foot of snow recently fell at Orgun-E in Paktika Province, an old Soviet airbase used by Hawai'i-based troops in southeastern Afghanistan — are not slowing the U.S. offensive, Cheek said.

"While the Afghan winter might pose a problem for our adversaries," Cheek said, "it will not hinder our operations ... we are committed to denying the insurgents any sanctuary, killing and capturing his leaders, destroying his munitions and munitions caches, and stopping his infiltration into Afghanistan."

The campaign comes with a cost: A U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded yesterday in a firefight that followed the detonation of two roadside bombs near Asadabad in southeastern Afghanistan.

A day earlier, one U.S. soldier and a former Afghan militia leader were killed during a house search in Shindand district in western Herat Province.

The Pentagon said Sgt. 1st Class Pedro A. Munoz, 47, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, N.C., died in Shindand.

"Our deepest condolences go out to the family of our fallen comrade," said Olson, who in Hawai'i commands the 25th Infantry Division (Light). "The best way to honor his sacrifice is to continue to carry out the mission he so bravely gave his life for."

Munoz was led to a house and was told an anti-coalition militant, Mullah Dost Mohammed, was inside. Troops entered the house and were fired on by a man shielding himself with two noncombatants, U.S. officials said. That man, later identified as Mohammed, was killed.

The Pentagon had not released the name of the second soldier killed. A Schofield Barracks official said she had no information to believe the soldier was based in Hawai'i.

Cheek, who in Hawai'i commands the 25th Infantry Division (Light) Artillery, said more than 600 weapons and ordnance caches have been recovered in his area — Regional Command East — including 152 caches discovered since August. As of Dec. 6, more than 300,000 pieces of ordnance had been destroyed.

Cheek said it is important to note that the U.S. focus is not simply on combat operations.

"In fact ... our main effort will be the reconstruction of Afghanistan and building its capacity for economic growth and prosperity," he said.

Cheek said programs are ongoing to develop schools, wells and provide humanitarian aid, and plans are being made for road networks, revitalization of downtown areas and establishment of irrigation systems.

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.