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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 07:39 GMT
US marines launch first strike
The war enters a dangerous phase for US Marines
US marines in Afghanistan have gone into combat for the first time since arriving near the last Taleban stronghold of Kandahar.

Navy fighter aircraft supported by marine helicopters attacked a military convoy, destroying about 15 vehicles, close to the airfield where they landed on Sunday.

Several hundred US Marines have been deployed at Dolangi airfield, near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

We're smoking them out, they're running and now we're going to bring them to justice

George W Bush
About 1,000 are expected to be deployed by Tuesday night as part of Operation Swift Freedom - the biggest deployment of US Marines to a war zone since the Gulf War in 1991.

BBC correspondents say the marines' main function appears to be to cut off the escape routes for Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders and to launch attacks on them should the opportunity arise.

The US believes al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden - blamed for the 11 September terror attacks on the US - is still in Afghanistan, in the mountains near Kandahar or Jalalabad in the east.

"We're smoking them out," President George W Bush said on Monday. "They're running and now we're going to bring them to justice."

And as Mr Bush braced the United States for likely casualties, it emerged that five US servicemen had been injured by a US bomb near Mazar-e-Sharif.

US aircraft have resumed bombing a fort near the city on the second day of a revolt by Taleban prisoners

US B-52s over Afghanistan
The deployment follows weeks of bombing

About 500 US Marines were flown by helicopter and C130 planes from secret land bases and amphibious assault ships in the Arabian Sea to Dolangi airfield.

Officials say they have already taken a forward position well inside Taleban-held territory south-west of the city.

Click here for map of the battlegrounds

They join several hundred US Army and Air Force special operations troops who have been working alongside anti-Taleban forces throughout Afghanistan - most effectively in the north - for weeks.

Air campaign

The arrival of US troops in southern Afghanistan coincided with the capture of the northern city of Kunduz by the Northern Alliance after a two-week siege of Taleban forces there.

Afghan baby
Thousands face starvation in Kandahar

The US air campaign is also continuing - focused largely on targets around Kandahar and Jalalabad, including caves in those areas.

Tribal leaders said they had captured the southern town of Spin Boldak from the Taleban without meeting any resistance. There has been no independent confirmation of this.

Earlier, the anti-Taleban forces said they were talking to the Taleban in the area to negotiate their surrender and a peaceful handover.

Local efforts to topple the Taleban in Kandahar - the powerbase of its supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar - were stepped up at the weekend with the seizure of the village of Takht-i-Pull, which cut off Spin Boldak from Kandahar.

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The BBC's Mike Donkin
"It is acknowledged that American lives will be lost"
The BBC's Peter Greste reports from Kabul
"The troops' main focus will be the hunt for the al-Qaeda network"
Former US Ass Defense Sec, Dr Lawrence Korb
"Throughout our history they are the first to go"
See also:

27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Forward base for US marines
02 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kandahar's troubled past
18 Nov 01 | South Asia
Contenders line up to take Kandahar
05 Nov 01 | Americas
US special forces 'botched mission'
26 Nov 01 | South Asia
Thousands face hunger in Kandahar
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