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US Bombing Continues in Afghan Mountains - 2002-03-04

U.S. warplanes have continued to pound suspected al-Qaida and Taleban positions in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, to soften up defenses for another ground assault by American-led forces.

U.S. officials say a large number of al-Qaida and Taleban holdouts have regrouped in a maze of mountain caves and tunnels outside the town of Gardez in Paktia province. Local Afghan officials say the number may be in the thousands.

Efforts to rout out the al-Qaida and Taleban fighters began with intense bombing raids late Friday. One American soldier and three Afghan fighters were confirmed dead in combat Saturday when an initial ground attack met stiff resistance. Heavy fighting continued Sunday, but there were no reports of coalition casualties. The number of al-Qaida and Taleban casualties is not known.

U.S. officials say enemy fire damaged Apache helicopters during the offensive, but that no aircraft were lost.

The offensive is the largest military action in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, involving nearly 1,500 Afghan, U.S., and coalition troops on the ground. Several coalition countries are taking part in the operation, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops stationed at an Afghan air-base in Khost near the Pakistani border came under small arms fire today. There were no reports of casualties.

In another development, Pakistan has sent more troops to the border with Afghanistan to prevent Taleban and al-Qaida fighters from escaping.