SLUG: 2-287056 Afghan / Fighting (S-L combo)
TITLE=AFGHAN / FIGHTING (S/L Combo)
INTRO: A new military offensive has been launched against remnants of the Taleban and the al-Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan. V-O-A correspondent Gary Thomas reports from the Afghan capital.
TEXT: U-S and Afghan forces are attempting to dislodge diehard al-Qaida and Taleban fighters from mountain strongholds in Paktia province.
Provincial officials say a force of some 600 Afghan fighters, accompanied by an estimated 50 U-S special forces troops, moved into the Shah-e-Kot mountains Saturday, some 40 kilometers south of the provincial capital Gardez. Local officials say heavy U-S air bombardment of the area began Friday and continued into Saturday.
Taleban and al-Qaida fighters are reported to be responding with mortars, rockets, and other heavy weapons.
Reports say al-Qaida and Taleban fighters are holed up with their families in the rugged region, located some 150 kilometers south of Kabul.
A U-S military official in Kandahar declined to comment except to confirm that operations are underway in Eastern Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan said it is sealing off a portion of its border with Afghanistan to prevent any al-Qaida or Taleban forces from escaping.
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The Taleban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan dissolved in the face of fierce U-S-led attacks. But some four-to-five-thousand of them are believed to remain inside Afghanistan. U-S officials say some of them are attempting to regroup in Paktia, located close to the border with Pakistan, and have been urging their followers to start a new war against U-S forces.
However, still unclear are the respective fates of the two top men, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Omar. Both disappeared from sight when the U-S bombing campaign began last year. Afghan officials believe them both to still be alive. But no proof has been forthcoming one way or the other. (signed)
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