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US Bolstering Forces in Operation Anaconda - 2002-03-06

The United States is bolstering its forces in Operation Anaconda, to wipe out al-Qaida and Taleban fighters holed up in mountainous eastern Afghanistan.

The Commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says 200-300 more American soldiers have been added to the original assault force of some 800 U.S. troops. In addition, General Tommy Franks says more attack helicopters have been brought in.

The reinforcements follow heavy fighting in the main battle area south of Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan. There have been reports that the opposing force of several hundred al-Qaida and non-Afghan Taleban including Uzbek and Chechen extremists has increased in recent days.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that may be true but is not a problem. "It's possible additional al-Qaida or Taleban could come from the mountains or the villages or from across the borders," he said. "And to the extent that happens, that could change the situation and that's fine because we're looking for them, wherever they are. And to the extent that additional forces are needed, we'll put what is needed to do the job."

Defense officials say scores of al-Qaida and Taleban have been killed since the start last week of the U.S. led offensive - the biggest of the five-month-old war.

Eight Americans have been killed and a little over 40 wounded so far. General Franks says the latest U.S. casualties are three soldiers who fell ill with altitude sickness, in the snow-dusted mountains where the battle is being fought.

At least three allied Afghan fighters have also been killed and 15-25 wounded. Among the several European countries which have also contributed troops to the offensive, there have been no casualties.

Pentagon officials remain reluctant to predict when the fighting will be over. They say the al-Qaida and Taleban forces are brutal and determined adversaries, who appear ready to fight to the end.

But they also say the outcome is not in doubt, insisting coalition troops will eventually prevail.