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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 11:25 GMT
US-led forces advance on al-Qaeda
US troops in eastern Afghanistan
Ground troops are as close as 100 metres
US-led ground troops in eastern Afghanistan are advancing closer to al-Qaeda and Taleban positions following a night of heavy US bombing.

Enlarge image Click for a detailed map of the Gardez operation
An Afghan local commander said Afghan troops and American advisers were about 100 metres from the rebel hideouts - about 32 kilometres (20 miles) from Gardez, capital of Paktia Province.

The commander said the US bombing had stopped, but there was no sign of a rebel surrender.

A rebel commander quoted by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press news agency (AIP) said al-Qaeda and Taleban forces would fight to the end..

The assault is led by US troops, who on Monday suffered the heaviest losses in combat since the war in Afghanistan began when two of their helicopters came under attack. At least seven US soldiers died.

Advance

Heavy fighting is continuing in the area, local commander Abdul Muteen told Reuters news agency.

"The rebels are firing heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades," he said.

Other countries involved include:
Australia
Canada
Denmark
France
Germany
Norway

  Guide to US military strength
Commander Muteen said the Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters had become very weak and were running out of ammunition, but they were not giving up.

In neighbouring Pakistan, AIP quoted a statement from rebel commander Maulvi Saif-ur-Rehman Mansoor as saying the jihad, or holy war, against the United States would continue.

"The fight against America for the supremacy of Islam and the defence of our country will continue until our last breath," said Mansoor's statement.

The US Government has pledged to continue the offensive despite Monday's attacks on the two Chinook helicopters.

Seven Americans died and about 40 were wounded in the attack - part of Operation Anaconda, which is seeking to root out Taleban and al-Qaeda forces from mountains south of Gardez.

President George W Bush has said he was saddened by the loss of life but remained determined to rout the al-Qaeda network.

The incident came as the largest coalition force assembled so far in Afghanistan - about 2,000 in total - remained heavily engaged in ground battles with the militants.

Troops from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway are also involved alongside US army and special forces and Afghan fighters.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Adam Brookes in Gardez
"Strikes by US bombers have continued"
Cmdr Frank Merryman of US Central Command
"The operation is continuing"
Prime Minister Tony Blair
"Afghanistan is still a dangerous place"
See also:

05 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Assault on al-Qaeda
02 Mar 02 | South Asia
Picture gallery: New Afghan army
04 Mar 02 | Europe
German special forces in action
23 Dec 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda threat lives on
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: What next for al-Qaeda?
07 Oct 01 | Americas
Guide to military strength
04 Mar 02 | South Asia
Analysis: How thermobaric bombs work
04 Mar 02 | Americas
Analysis: Last stand or long war?
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