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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK
US steps up Afghan assault
US Apache helicopter (file photo)
US troops have been hunting down Taleban fighters
United States-led troops in Afghanistan say they have launched a new offensive against suspected Taleban forces in the south-eastern province of Zabul.

An American military spokesman said Operation Mountain Viper had been launched on Saturday with an air assault in the Dai Chopan area of Zabul.

In two separate incidents, at least seven Afghan Government soldiers were killed overnight in attacks by suspected Taleban fighters along the main road linking Kabul with the south of the country.

On Sunday, two US soldiers were killed in a clash with guerrilla fighters in neighbouring Paktika Province.

The one-and-a-half hour battle took place near the Pakistan border close to Shkin, the US military said in a statement.

Another US soldier was wounded in the clash in which four opposition fighters also reportedly died.

The US military has not said who was behind the attack, but similar clashes have been attributed to Taleban fighters, their al-Qaeda associates or supporters of the renegade former prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hunt for Taleban

South-east Afghanistan has been hit by a recent rise in violence blamed on apparently resurgent Taleban fighters.

Dai Chopan has been at the centre of an offensive by Afghan forces supported by US troops and aircraft for the past week.

The hunt, which is in its seventh day, has so far reportedly led to the death of up to 90 Taleban fighters.

But the American military spokesman, Colonel Rodney Davis, said he could confirm the deaths of only 37 militants in Zabul, mostly in attacks by coalition aircraft.

Supporters of the Taleban regime which was ousted in 2001 by the US-led coalition are believed to be regrouping in the mountainous border regions of Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

The names of the dead US troops were withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The wounded soldier is in a "stable condition" having been transferred to Bagram Air Base near Kabul, said US Central Command.

The BBC's Ian MacWilliam
"The clash was very close to the Pakistani border"

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