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US Forces in Afghanistan Target Taleban, al-Qaida

U.S. forces in Afghanistan are continuing operations against suspected Taleban and al-Qaida forces in southeastern Kandahar Province. Military authorities say a number of rockets were fired at U.S. bases over the past 24 hours, but it is not clear if the attacks are in retaliation for the U.S. led military operation against Iraq.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are continuing operations in the rugged Samighar Mountains, about 130 kilometers east of the city of Kandahar.

Kandahar is the former stronghold of Afghanistan's Taleban rulers, who were ousted after harboring al-Qaida terrorists suspected in the September 2001 attacks on Washington and New York.

Some 600 U.S. ground troops and several hundred other support troops are involved in operation "Valiant Strike," one of the biggest efforts conducted by the U.S. military in recent months.

Colonel Roger King, spokesman for coalition forces at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, says U.S. troops have cordoned off a large area and are searching for remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida. "The intelligence indicates they may be associated with more than one different group, but I think they would probably fall under the category of supporters of al-Qaida," he said. "There may be some al-Qaida types there, but I think the majority of the folks there would fall under the category of those who support terrorism."

Colonel King says operation "Valiant Strike" is also targeting members of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatayar's Hezb-e-Islami movement.

He says the operation is not related to recent arrests of al-Qaida suspects in Pakistan, or in areas of Afghanistan that border Pakistan. He also says operation "Valiant Strike" had been planned for more than two months, and it is purely coincidental that the operation began on the same day as military strikes against Iraq.

Colonel King also confirms an upsurge in rocket attacks against U.S. forces over the past 24 hours, with at least 11 small rockets fired at U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan. "Last night if you go with the total number of rockets it is probably the largest number of rockets launched during one evening in probably two or two and a half months," Col. King said.

None of the rockets landed closer than 500 meters to any U.S. forces and U.S. military authorities say it is not clear if the attacks were timed to coincide with the beginning of military operations against Iraq. Forces opposed to coalition operations in Afghanistan have threatened to step up attacks if military strikes began against Iraq.