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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 18:35 GMT
Fresh troops for Afghan battle zone
Afghan troops keep warm in Gardez
The battle is under way in freezing cold
The United States military and its Afghan allies are pouring reinforcements into eastern Afghanistan, following six days of heavy fighting against Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

A column of Northern Alliance tanks left Kabul on Thursday, as 1,000 fresh Afghan troops were ordered to the battle zone.

We are determined to finish them and send them to hell

Hamid Karzai
The Americans had been carrying out massive overnight aerial bombardments of enemy positions in caves high in the snow-covered mountains south of Gardez, in Paktia province.

But operations by US helicopter gunships and ground attack planes may be hampered in coming days, as snow is forecast.

Enlarge image Click for a detailed map of the Gardez operation
The Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters - who are said to include Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks - are reportedly mounting classic guerrilla-style resistance.

Small groups of fighters, four or five strong, dart out of caves and bunkers, rain down fire on advancing American and allied Afghan troops and then disappear back into their hideouts.

Veteran commander

About 1,200 American troops and 200 soldiers from other Western countries are already deployed in operation Anaconda.

They have been backed by about 800 Afghan allies, who will now be reinforced by the 1,000 soldiers from Kabul under the command of veteran field commander Gul Haider.
Pro-government Afghan fighter
Lack of equipment does not deter the Afghan soldiers

The BBC's Kate Clark says the dispatch of a non-Pashtun Northern Alliance commander to the Pashtun region of Paktia is a bold step for the new, multi-ethnic government in Kabul.

The head of the provincial council in Paktia welcomed it, saying they were all Afghans from one homeland.

US military spokesman Major Brian Hilferty said the Taleban and al-Qaeda had lost about half their 1,000 fighters in nearly a week of fighting.

Wednesday alone saw an estimated 100 enemy fighters killed, he told reporters.

He acknowledged that some non-combatants were also likely to have been killed, as some fighters are thought to be sheltering in the caves with their families.

Altitude sickness

General Tommy Franks, the US commander in Afghanistan, has warned that there are still "dangerous days" ahead for the allied forces.

At least eight American and seven Afghan Government soldiers have been killed since the operation began.

Several US troops have been treated for altitude sickness after spending days in the thin air and freezing cold.

B-52 above mountains near Gardez
B-52 heavy bombers have been pounding the caves
US President George W Bush has expressed confidence in the outcome of the battle, a sentiment echoed by interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

"We are determined to finish them and send them to hell," said Mr Karzai. "It may take one or two days or more, but they are finished."

The US-led military campaign began after Afghanistan's then Taleban government refused to hand over its ally, al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, who is accused of masterminding the 11 September terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar are not thought in the area of the current battle.

US military officials say the Gardez fighting is unlikely to be the last battle of the war, given that thousands of Taleban fighters are still at large in Afghanistan.

The BBC's Adam Brookes
"Still the resisters have neither surrendered nor fled"
The BBC's Kate Clark in Gardez
"The Americans have said they believe half the Taleban fighters may have been killed"
See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda 'executed US serviceman'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda may use internet to regroup
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Operation Anaconda
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