U.S., coalition battling Afghan rebels

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 1:33 a.m.

BAGRAM, Afghanistan - U.S. and coalition forces are fighting a pitched battle against a group of 80 rebel forces aligned to renegade leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the largest-scale fighting since Operation Anaconda nine months ago, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

At least 18 rebel fighters were killed, and there were no coalition casualties.

The fighting in mountains in southeastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan was triggered by a small shootout nearby in which one man was killed, one injured and one detained, King said. He said that the detained man told them under questioning that a large group of men had massed in the mountain areas.

King said the military sent Apache helicopters to the area to investigate, and they came under small arms fire. The military responded with a quick-reaction force of fighter aircraft that are continuing to pound the remote region with 500-pound and 2,000-pound bombs.

He said some of the fighters are dug into caves.

King said that it is believed the rebel fighters, while loyal to Hekmatyar, have sympathies and possible links to the ousted Taliban and al-Qaida.

Many Taliban and al-Qaida suspects fled into Pakistan following U.S. bombardment in late 2001. There have been a series of attacks along Afghan's long border with Pakistan in recent months, including one in December that resulted in the death of U.S. Army Sgt. Steven Checo.

There have been several other shootouts involving U.S. forces along the border in recent months, and rockets are routinely fired at U.S. military bases in eastern Afghanistan, near the border. The rockets rarely hit their target and injuries from such assaults are unheard of.

U.N. and American forces have expressed concern about renewed training by al-Qaida and Taliban militants in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border.

"It's the largest concentration of enemy forces since Operation Anaconda," U.S. military spokesman Roger King said from Bagram Air Base, a reference to fighting in March in eastern Afghanistan that involved the largest number of American troops in the Afghan war.

American war planes attacked enemy positions with B-1 bombers, F-16s and AC-130 gunships, King said.

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