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Posted: 3/5/2002 10:51:12 AM EDT
U.S.-Led Troops Inch Toward Taliban in Bloody Assault Tue Mar 5,10:08 AM ET By Christine Hauser GARDEZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces fought their way under heavy fire toward Taliban and al Qaeda bunkers in the icy mountains of eastern Afghanistan Tuesday, pressing on with one of the bloodiest offensives of the war. Afghan commander Abdul Muteen said U.S. and Afghan forces had advanced to within 100 yards of the enemy, who were trying to hold them at bay with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. "There is fierce fighting. The Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have become very weak. They are running out of ammunition," said Muteen, who commands 70 troops in the 1,500-strong Afghan force and receives regular reports from his fighters in the field. "The bombing has stopped and our soldiers with some U.S. advisers have advanced to within 100 meters of some rebel caves and bunkers." The ground attack, the biggest of the five-month-old Afghan War and code-named "Operation Anaconda," had been on hold for nearly 24 hours to allow U.S. bombing of the mountain hideouts by B-52s and F-16 jets, and strafing by attack helicopters. The Taliban and al Qaeda have mounted a stiff resistance, repelling the first offensive Saturday and sending the U.S.-led forces back to the eastern town of Gardez, more than 20 miles from the frontline to regroup. Eight U.S. soldiers have been killed in the operation, including six who died when a "Chinook" helicopter was shot down Monday. The U.S. says hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters have been killed. "SURRENDER OR DIE" "The battle was very intense at times. There was mortar fire, machine gun fire. The enemy has heavy weaponry," U.S. Major Bryan Hilferty told Reuters at Bagram Aibase north of Kabul, where much of the U.S. ground force has been shifted to support the assault. "This battle is going to go on until they all surrender or die." But both U.S. and Afghan commanders said the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters seemed determined to fight to the death. "They are ready for martyrdom and will die to the last man," Muteen said. Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Rahim Shirzai said even when the Gardez operation was over "it may take a long time for us to get rid of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters." "Some of our neighbors and regional countries have set up proxies in Afghanistan in the past two decades; it is unlikely we will be able to destroy them any time soon," he told Reuters. President Bush mourned the American casualties in the operation, but vowed to pursue his global war on terrorism, launched after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said up to 200 hardened al Qaeda and Taliban fighters died in fierce fighting in the first four days of "Operation Anaconda." Afghan government casualties were estimated at seven dead and 20 wounded.
Link Posted: 3/5/2002 10:52:08 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 3/5/2002 10:55:43 AM EDT by ArmdLbrl]
Hundreds of Afghan troops and forces from other countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway, were involved in the attack on the regrouped al Qaeda and Taliban forces, many believed to be dug in with their families. A Pentagon spokeswoman said more than 1,000 U.S. personnel, including special operations troops, members of the 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Divisions, were used in the attack. 'WE'LL WIN THIS BATTLE,' BUSH SAYS Asked if more U.S. troops were now needed in Afghanistan, Bush said he would rely on the advice of his commanders. "But we'll take whatever means is necessary to protect our servicemen and women. And we'll win this battle," he said. Afghan officials said they believed neither Osama bin Laden nor Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar were in the battle area. U.S. officials have left open the possibility bin Laden, their number one suspect in the September 11 attacks, is dead, but said they have no clear evidence of his fate. "I haven't heard from him since December 11," Bush said. "He's been awfully quiet. I don't know why. But I know he's on the run, if he's running at all." The resurgence of fighting in the five-month campaign that toppled the ruling Taliban and routed al Qaeda followed a lull of several weeks during which some politicians in Washington began to question the U.S. mission's success. Fears have been raised that the country will fall back into the warlordism and anarchy that reigned before the rise of the Taliban. The interim government is trying to keep local warlords under control and prevent factional squabbles. Afghan defense minister Mohammad Fahim Tuesday started a two-day meeting with warlords from all over the country who he had called to Kabul to discuss the security situation including the Gardez operation and disarmament. [i]A BLOODY assault?? For whom? Where? We have lost one man in a area where we were attacking. All other casualties occured where the helicopters were shot down. And that was two days ago. These jerkoffs need to stop exaggerating- and I am giving them the benifit of the doubt there, that they arent shilling for the Taliban[/i]
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