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US Begins New Offensive in Afghanistan - 2003-03-20

U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan have begun a new offensive in southern parts of the country along the border with Pakistan. The move is said to be part of the search for remnants of Taleban and al-Qaida terrorist network hiding in the region.

U.S. military officials in Afghanistan say the operation began with an early morning air assault southeast of the city of Kandahar.

The offensive in the remote mountainous Afghan region is being described as the largest U.S. military operation in more than a year. Reports say about 1,000 U.S. troops are taking part in the operation near the border with Pakistan.

Helicopters ferried the troops to the assault location. "They fly in, they touch down and the soldiers dismount," said Captain Alayne Cramer, a spokeswoman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan. "So it doesn't involve any kind of parachuting." Captain Cramer said she could not say whom the troops expect to be fighting.

Another U.S. military spokesman was quoted as saying that the timing of the assault is not linked to the start of U.S. military strikes against Iraq.

The Afghan city of Kandahar was a stronghold of the ousted Islamic Taleban regime. In recent weeks, government forces have become targets of rocket and bomb attacks in and around the city. Afghan authorities blame remnants of the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist network for these attacks.

Thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan are searching for members of the Taleban and al-Qaida, including its chief, Osama bin Laden.

There has been a series of raids on both sides of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent days, which followed the arrest of some senior al-Qaida members. U.S. intelligence officials are currently interrogating these militants trying to learn the location of Osama bin Laden and his colleagues.