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Troops Find Weapons in Afghanistan

March 23, 2003|From Associated Press

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — U.S. troops seized a large cache of weapons, including hundreds of mortars, rockets and land mines, and detained four suspects Saturday during a sweep in southern Afghanistan, an Army official said.

The weapons were found inside several buildings in a walled compound near the Sami Ghar mountains, where hundreds of U.S.-led troops are hunting for terrorism suspects in a broad new operation, said Lt. Col. Michael Shields, a senior operations officer of the coalition task force.

"To put it in perspective, we're still counting.... The size of this is significant," Shields said.

The seizure came as suspected Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami renegades killed three Afghan soldiers at a post elsewhere in Kandahar province.

In the new campaign, the troops trudged through muddy, rugged terrain to pursue intelligence about suspected weapons caches in caves and mountains, Shields said.

The troops arrested two suspected rebels near the weapons, Shields said, declining to provide further details.

The cache included hundreds of rocket-propelled grenade launchers, high-caliber machine guns, mortar rounds, antitank and antipersonnel mines and "too much ammunition of all caliber to count currently," Shields said.

The latest U.S. operation in Afghanistan began Thursday as an intensified search for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and loyalists of renegade rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom U.S. authorities have branded a terrorist.

No exchanges of gunfire or coalition injuries have been reported, Army officials said.

Troops also apprehended two other suspected rebels and seized a much smaller cache of ammunition and light machine guns Friday, Col. Roger King, an Army spokesman, said earlier.

Shields said the smaller cache included documents that referred to regional leaders of rebel forces. He declined to give further details.

In the attack Saturday, gunmen opened fire on an Afghan army post in the southern province of Kandahar, killing three Afghan soldiers, a senior Afghan government official said.

The gunmen traded fire with soldiers in the Wath army post, about 20 miles south of Spin Buldak, for about an hour, then fled, said Fazaluddin Agha, the head of administration in Spin Buldak district, near the border with Pakistan. They were believed to be from the former Taliban regime or the group Hizb-e-Islami.

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