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SLUG: 2-298949 Afghanistan Fighting (L)








INTRO: U-S and Afghan forces are searching for survivors of a

fierce battle with rebels in the southern mountains of Afghanistan. At

least 18 rebels were killed in a fight with what U-S military officials

say was the largest enemy force encountered in more than nine months.

Ayaz Gul reports from neighboring Pakistan.

TEXT: U-S military officials say the fighting has died down in the

mountainous region near the border town of Spin Boldak. A spokesman

for the U-S military, Roger King, says hundreds of American and Afghan

soldiers have begun a search operation in the area to find survivors of

the fierce battle.

He says there is a huge cave network in the mountains and that the

search will continue to ensure the coalition forces do not miss anything

or anybody.

The fighting began Monday when U-S special forces soldiers came under

small arms fire while clearing a mud-walled compound. U-S

officials say one of the attackers was killed. Another was arrested and

told interrogators that supporters and members of the ousted Taleban

regime were trying to regroup in the mountains where the fighting took


U-S and allied warplanes then bombed the mountain cave complex, killing

at least 18 rebel fighters. The loyalties of the rebels have not yet been

determined, but U-S military officials say they suspect they are loyal to

renegade Afghan leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who heads the Hezb-e-Islami movement.

Afghan and U-S officials suspect that Mr. Hekmatyar is attempting to

consolidate remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taleban

into a fighting force.

The Afghan warlord has condemned the presence of U-S led forces in the

country and has been urging Afghans to wage a holy war against the

U-S-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

On Tuesday, President Bush spoke to President Karzai by telephone and

reassured him that the United States remains committed to establishing a

democratic and stable Afghanistan. (SIGNED)


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