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Operations Continue in Eastern Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 18, 2002 -- U.S. and coalition troops continue the painstaking process of searching eastern Afghanistan for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, Combined Joint Task Force 180 officials said July 18.

Operation Mountain Lion continues in the region with U.S. and coalition forces finding ammunition caches and a Soviet-era armored personnel carrier. They have not found any terrorists. Task force officials noted the area is honeycombed with natural caves and manmade tunnels, many cleverly disguised.

Local Afghan militia forces led a U.S. special operations team to an arms cache in the Tarin Kot area. The team secured thousands of rounds of ammunition, including rocket propelled grenades and mortar rounds.

At a site near Khowst, U.S. special operations forces found a Soviet-made BRDM armored personnel carrier. The vehicle was in a cave and in apparently good condition, officials said. Teams are searching other caves in the area for more materiel.

The investigation continues into the July 1 friendly fire incident in which 40 or more members of a wedding party are alleged to have been killed in a U.S. gunship air strike in the Deh Rawod District of Oruzgan Province. Investigators are interviewing U.S. military personnel in Uzbekistan.

At the provincial governor's request, the task force also dispatched a civil-military assistance team to the incident scene to evaluate the situation and to see what humanitarian aid the populace may need.

About 8,000 U.S. service members are in Afghanistan. The number is a bit higher than normal because the 82nd Airborne Division is in the process of relieving the 101st Airborne Division. Defense Department officials said the change of command is going well, but would not forecast an end date.

U.S. officials said about 16,000 U.S. and coalition forces are in the Afghanistan area of operations.

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