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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 17:55 GMT
Fierce battle rages in Afghanistan
A TBAC-79 reconnaissance APC of the Romanian Army patrols in Kandahar
Allied troops are searching for remnants of the Taleban
American and coalition forces have been battling Afghan rebels in the south of the country, close to the border with Pakistan.

American war planes have bombed rebel fighters in the mountainous region near the town of Spin Boldak, in what US military officials say is the largest-scale fighting for nine months.

Some 200 US special forces troops are engaged in the mountain battle and more are on their way, US Army spokesman Major Robert Hepner told the Associated Press.

Colonel King
Col King says the fighting could last some time
Another US spokesman said the fighting forces were aligned to one of the Afghan leaders, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Up to 18 rebel fighters have been killed, spokesman Colonel Roger King said.

"It's the largest concentration of enemy forces since Operation Anaconda," Colonel King said - a reference to the US military campaign in eastern Afghanistan last March.

Colonel King said the latest battle might last some time, because of the large area involved.

"It's rough terrain. There are some caves, there may be more that we don't know about, so it could take a considerable period of time," he said.

Gun battle

The fighting has been centred on rocky, unpopulated terrain around the Adi Ghar mountain, near the border with Pakistan, where as many as 80 fighters were hidden, he said.

The fighting was triggered by a small gun battle nearby between US Special Forces and armed attackers as the Americans and Afghan Government troops were working to clear a compound.

The allied forces surrounded the group - which locals said had been threatening communities east of Spin Boldak - killing one man, wounding another and detaining at least one other.

Apache helicopters sent to investigate came under fire, prompting the deployment of American B-1 bombers, F-16s and AC-130 gunships.

Recent attacks

Colonel King said that intelligence suggested the rebel fighters were most closely aligned with faction leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"We've had reports over several months that he's been attempting to consolidate with remnants of al-Qaeda and Taleban," Colonel King said, quoted by the Associated Press.

However, the BBC's Rahimullah Yusufzai, reporting across the border from Peshawar, says there is little evidence that Mr Hekmatyar has joined forces with the Taleban.

Many Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects fled into Pakistan following the US bombardment in 2001.

Recent months have seen a series of attacks along the long border between the two countries.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Kylie Morris
"The Americans believe the rebels they are fighting are aligned with the renegade commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar"
  Roger King, US military spokesman
"At least 18 enemy personnel have been killed"

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28 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | South Asia
17 Jan 03 | South Asia
17 Jan 03 | Americas
12 Nov 02 | South Asia
19 Mar 02 | South Asia
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