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THE WORLD

U.S. Jets Bomb Taliban Hide-Out

At least 14 insurgents are killed as an air assault in southeastern Afghanistan provides support for an attack by ground troops.

August 26, 2003|From Times Wire Services

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. jets pounded a Taliban mountain hide-out Monday, killing at least 14 insurgents in the deadliest air assault since rebels launched a series of strikes against Afghan government targets, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

A spokesman for the governor of Zabol province said as many as 50 loyalists of the former regime were killed in the operation. In recent weeks, Taliban fighters have killed dozens of people and cast a shadow over efforts to rebuild the war-battered country.

Sweeping through the rugged mountains of southeastern Afghanistan on Monday, scores of Afghan militia members and U.S. Army Special Forces soldiers hunted down the suspected Taliban fighters.

In Monday's attack, dubbed "Operation Warrior Sweep," fighter jets provided air support for the ground troops and blasted the mountain region that runs between Kandahar and Zabol provinces, said Col. Rodney Davis, spokesman for the U.S. military at coalition headquarters at Bagram air base, north of the capital, Kabul.

Davis said 14 enemy fighters were killed. Juma Khan, a district police chief, put the death toll at 16. Ahmad Khan, spokesman for the provincial governor, said that at least 50 died, but that there was no way to independently confirm the varying reports.

There were no reported coalition casualties in the operation, which was continuing, Davis said.

As many as 600 Taliban fighters were thought to have been holed up in the hide-out after launching attacks Friday and Saturday, Juma Khan said.

He said ground forces, which included about 450 Afghans and two dozen Americans, had captured up to 40 suspects, although he said that could include civilians.

"The rest of Taliban, I think, have fled," Khan said. "The bombing has just ended because of darkness. As far as I can see, the Taliban have been defeated totally here and we have captured their bases."

A Taliban spokesman, Mohammed Hanif, told Associated Press by satellite telephone that only civilians were killed in two offensives by Afghan government troops.

"It was a massive force of the government who wanted to kill and arrest the Taliban, but they were not successful," Hanif said.

Khan, the police chief, described the Taliban force scattered over rugged terrain as one of the biggest concentrations since the fundamentalist group was overthrown in a U.S.-led campaign in late 2001.

There have been reports that the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, has appointed military commanders to certain areas.

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