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US Special Forces Pursue bin Laden's Fighters - 2002-01-07

In eastern Afghanistan, U.S. special forces troops have reportedly been deployed around Khost in Paktia province to pursue Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida fighters. Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes continue to pound suspected al-Qaida training camps in the area.

Witnesses in Khost tell VOA that several U.S. helicopters carrying troops landed overnight near the border with Pakistan in Paktia province. The troops are believed to be on a mission to hunt down remnants of al-Qaida and their Taleban supporters.

U.S warplanes also continued to bomb targets around Khost for the fifth straight day. The town was used as a training base by al-Qaida and was hit by U.S. cruise missiles following the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Khost also serves as the headquarters a former Taleban minister, Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is high on the U.S. most wanted list of suspected terrorists.

A number of al-Qaida fighters are thought to have fled into the mountains near Khost from Tora Bora - the area seized by anti-Taleban forces last month after vicious U.S. bombing attacks on al-Qaida cave complexes there.

A local military commander in Khost, Kamal Khan, says he welcomes the presence of U.S. soldiers on the ground. He says his men have seen al-Qaida members moving in and out of the area. He agrees they are terrorists who need to be captured. But he says the United States should stop its bombing campaign.

It is great that American troops are here to get the al-Qaida men, Mr. Khan says. But he says he thinks that dropping bombs are putting too many civilians at risk.

But the commander admits he does not know if any civilians in Khost have been killed by U.S. bombs.

In Kabul, the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the new U.S. special envoy, Zahmay Khalizad. Mr. Brahimi says he has not asked the United States to stop the bombings, but he says that both sides are deeply concerned about reports of civilian deaths.