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Saturday, 9 March, 2002, 14:47 GMT
US set for final Afghan push
US soldiers warm themselves at a camp at Bagram airbase
US-led forces face more days of fighting
American officials say US-led forces are preparing for a final push in their offensive to rout suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters from mountain caves and bunkers.

Driving snow and high winds in eastern Afghanistan have slowed Operation Anaconda, which began eight days ago.

But US military spokesman Major Bryan Hilferty said the bad weather could work to the Americans' advantage, making life difficult for fighters dug in high up in the mountains.

Wounded Afghan fighter flown to Kabul
The fighting has been some of the fiercest since October
To help defeat the militants, the Afghan defence ministry has been sending reinforcements to the region to await further orders.

Major Hilferty, while admitting that al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters are "hunkered down", said the US-led forces were ready to go after the militants.

"When we find them, we will go and we will either make them surrender or we will kill them," he said.

"We're going to search the caves, we're going to search the entire area."

'Dangerous missions'

However, US Vice-President Dick Cheney has admitted that the bad weather means it could take up to 10 more days to dislodge the al-Qaeda and Taleban forces.

President George W Bush warned on Friday that the battle would not be the last fought by US forces conducting the war on terror in Afghanistan.

"It is a sign of what is going to happen for a while," the US leader said during a visit to Florida, adding that "dangerous missions" still lay ahead.

Hundreds of entrenched militants are said to have been killed in the assault, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the Afghan campaign.

At least eight American and seven Afghan Government soldiers have been killed.

Afghan reinforcements have been heading south towards the city of Gardez along with tanks and heavy artillery.

About 2,000 US and Afghan troops along with special forces from various countries are already in the battle zone.

US officials say the militants, who are said to include Chechens, Pakistanis and Uzbeks, are completely surrounded.

But Afghan commanders have warned they could still slip away under cover of the snow.

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 attacks on New York and Washington.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"They continue to resist from their network of hideouts"
See also:

08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan test for US ground warfare
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
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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