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US, Afghan Forces in Heavy Fighting with Rebels - 2003-01-28

U.S. and Afghan forces are engaged in a heavy fighting with rebels in Afghanistan in what is the largest battle in more than nine months of anti-terrorist operations. Some 18 rebels loyal to a renegade commander are reported dead.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan's Bagram Airbase is calling this the largest-scale operation against enemy forces in nine months.

The fighting is taking place in the mountainous region of Atghar in Zabul province, close to the Pakistani border.

A U.S. military spokesman, Roger King, says the fighting began after coalition troops came under fire near Spin Boldak. One of the assailants was detained and provided information about some 80 of rebels hiding in the mountains.

The spokesman says Apache helicopters were fired on during reconnaissance of the area so heavy air support was dispatched.

The U.S. military says the rebels appear to be loyal to renegade commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and intelligence data suggest they have been attempting to consolidate with remnants of al-Qaida terrorist fighters and the former Taleban to oust U.S.-led troops from the country.