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New Air Attack Begins in Afghanistan - 2002-03-03

A new U.S.-led offensive against al-Qaida and Taleban holdouts continues in Afghanistan. At least one American soldier and two Afghan fighters are confirmed killed in the attack. Several more were wounded in the biggest offensive since the attacks in the Tora Bora mountains in December.

A force of some 1,500 U.S. and Afghan fighters is engaged in a campaign to dislodge the remnants of al-Qaida and Taleban forces from caves in the eastern part of Paktia province.

U.S. warplanes bombed the suspected tunnel and cave complexes south of the provincial capital Gardez to soften up the defenses for the ground forces. A new bomb designed to suffocate the inhabitants of underground bunkers was used.

It is not known how much resistance the offensive is meeting. U.S. military secrecy and the remote location of the battle front make it impossible to obtain an independent account of the fight or to monitor its success. However, Afghan officials in the region quote U.S. officers as telling them as many as 4,000 al-Qaida and Taleban fighters are holed up in the area.

The rugged terrain is honeycombed with caves and tunnels used by Afghan fighters during the resistance to Soviet occupation in the 1980's.