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US Continues Bombing Taleban Hideouts - 2002-03-03

U.S. warplanes Sunday continued to pound mountain hideouts of the Taleban and al-Qaeda in eastern Afghanistan. U.S.-led forces are engaged in the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since December, and they have run into stiff resistance.

The new bombing follows a ground attack in the rugged mountains south of Gardez that faltered in the face of unexpectedly heavy resistance from al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters.

About 1,500 Afghan fighters, along with U.S. troop contingents, mounted their assault early Saturday in Shah-e-Kot, a mountainous area riddled with tunnels and caves.

In interviews with VOA in a Kabul hospital, Afghan fighters wounded in the assault said their attack stalled. Mohammad Daoud, who sustained shrapnel wounds in his leg, said the fire from the al-Qaeda and Taleban forces was withering. "There was very fierce fighting, and they were putting up a very strong resistance," Mr. Daoud recalled. "And they were using heavy guns. And the helicopters also helped in dropping a few soldiers, but we could not move forward."

The Afghan fighters say their battle was made more difficult because al-Qaeda forces are entrenched on the mountain tops and ridges. Mr. Daoud said at least 60 U.S. soldiers were involved in the operation. Two people in Mr. Daoud's group died in the attack, including the one U.S. soldier killed in the operation.

U.S. officials said the new offensive was launched when it was discovered that al-Qaeda and Taleban forces, battered in the December fighting, were regrouping in Paktia province. Air attacks began Friday to soften up the defenses.

According to Mr. Daoud, U.S. officers told them they were going into the mountains to find and arrest al-Qaeda and Taleban members. "They told us there were about 800 [to] 900 people there," he said.

Another wounded participant, Mohammad Aleem, said the attack was launched from three different directions. He said that when their attack was repulsed, more heavy U.S. air power was called in. "When the fighting was going on, the Americans were using helicopters and jet planes," he said. "And they were bombing their positions and the fighting was going on. And the Taleban and al-Qaeda people who were there, they were using heavy guns."

U.S. officials say a new type of bomb was used in the fighting. It sucks the air out of caves and tunnels, causing the inhabitants to suffocate.