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SLUG: 2-314078 Afghan Offensive (L-O)
INTRO: The U-S military in Afghanistan says it has begun a new operation in the eastern half of the country to flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaida terror network. V-O-A's Michael Kitchen reports from neighboring Pakistan on this latest coalition campaign.
TEXT: A U-S military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said the newly launched "Operation Mountain Storm" was the latest in an "evolution" of steps the coalition is taking against anti-government insurgents.
Speaking to reporters in Kabul, he said the new campaign would involve all of the more than 13-thousand coalition troops in Afghanistan, but he would not elaborate on the details of the operation.
U-S and Afghan forces have been facing off against armed insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime, but also said to include members of al-Qaida.
Reports during the past month have said U-S forces were close to finding al-Qaida's fugitive leader, Osama bin Laden, but Lieutenant Colonel Hilferty said the new operation was not aimed at hunting for individuals.
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It is certainly about more than one person. We do have confidence, though, and the leaders of al-Qaida and the leader of (the) Taleban need to be brought to justice. And they will be.
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He said the real focus of Operation Mountain Storm is to maintain stability in Afghanistan as it prepares for national elections, currently slated for this summer.
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The coalition campaign coincides with Pakistan's hunt for foreign militants in its semi-autonomous tribal area of South Waziristan.
That operation, launched Friday, involves a posse of local tribesmen, organized by local elders amid pressure from the Pakistani government.
Pakistani officials say the Waziristan action is unrelated to U-S and Afghan operations across the border. (SIGNED)
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