Wed, Dec 10, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US launches fresh offensive against Afghan insurgents


Hundreds of American soldiers launched an air assault in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, part of a new operation the US military is calling its biggest since the fall of the hardline Taliban regime two years ago.

Soldiers from the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment stormed into an area east of Khost, a restive town along the border with Pakistan that has seen several recent attacks on coalition personnel, said Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, a US military spokesman.

"We came in with helicopters," he said of the maneuver, part of the newly launched Operation Avalanche. "We're trying to interdict along the border."

US and Afghan officials have long charged that Taliban rebels and their al-Qaeda allies flee back across the mountainous border into Pakistan after launching attacks.

Hilferty gave no further details, including whether there were any US casualties.

Operation Avalanche, which Hilferty said began Dec. 2, involves some 2,000 soldiers in four battalions, and is being billed as the largest undertaken since the Afghan war that ousted the Taliban ended in late 2001.

Hilferty said the operation was designed to root out insurgents before the brutally cold winter months.

"We're trying to get them before the winter sets in," he said.

Hilferty also issued the military's bluntest-yet acknowledgment that it was responsible for a blundered air assault on Saturday that killed nine children as they were playing in a field in Hutala village, 150km southwest of the capital.

"We admit that we were responsible," he said. Hilferty added the military could still not confirm whether it had killed the intended target, a Taliban official named Mullah Wazir.

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