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Coalition Forces in Afghanistan Target Taleban, Al-Qaida - 2003-03-28

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have launched a second major offensive against remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida. The military action comes as a foreign Red Cross worker was shot dead in the southern part of the country.

U.S. forces have launched their second major offensive against remaining Taleban and al-Qaida this month. Operation Desert Lion began on Thursday with an air assault by the U.S. 505th parachute infantry regiment in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan.

Operation Desert Lion, which involves hundreds of coalition forces, is similar in scope to operation Valiant Strike, which was launched earlier this month in the Samighar mountains of southeastern Afghanistan. About 600 coalition combat troops are combing the remote portion of Kandahar province, searching for weapons and Taleban and al-Qaida operatives.

So far, troops have recovered several large caches of weapons, and detained a number of suspects. Colonel Roger King, the coalition spokesman at Bagram air base, says it is the first time coalition forces have operated in the area, and they have recovered a mix of old and new weapons.

"Some of them are relatively new and in good shape, and could have been moved rather recently, and some of them are older caches," Col. King said. "As far as the area, we have not done operations as extensive as Valiant Strike in this region prior to this."

Even as coalition military activities continue, insecurity in southern Afghanistan seems to have increased in recent days.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says one of its workers, Ricardo Munguia, a Swiss citizen originally from El Salvador, was killed in Oruzgun province. He was traveling with several Afghan workers at the time to check on water supplies in the town of Tirin Kot.

A statement from the ICRC says Mr. Munguia was shot by unidentified attackers. However the French news agency quotes the governor of Oruzgun province as saying the ICRC worker was killed by supporters of the Taleban and al-Qaida, who singled him out for execution, and spared his Afghan colleagues.

A U.N. spokesman on Friday confirmed the United Nations was temporarily suspending some operations in southern Zabul province, due to insecurity in the region. The area borders Kandahar province, where operation Valiant Strike is being carried out.