American forces opened a large-scale airborne assault against suspected Taliban and other anti-government forces in two mountainous northeastern provinces over the weekend, a US military spokesman said on Monday.
The assault is the first big sweep by the American military against these fighters in the remote mountains of the Hindu Kush, and it suggests that militants have spread their influence to new areas.
Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division were dropped by air on Friday into Kunar and Nuristan provinces "to clear the area of anti-coalition and anti-government fighters," an American military spokesman, Colonel Rodney Davis, said.
Residents and aid workers had been reporting increased air and vehicle activity in the area for several days. Forces loyal to a renegade commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has declared a holy war against US forces in Afghanistan, are thought to be present in the area and may be the target of the operation. US troops based in Kunar Province have come under repeated rocket attacks recently.
Both provinces share a rugged mountainous border with Pakistan, where sympathy for the Taliban and Hekmatyar remains strong.
But tribal leaders from Nuristan complained during the weekend that American forces were mistaken in attacking the province. Maulavi Ghulam Rabbani, a longtime religious leader and guerrilla commander allied to the government, said US planes had bombed and fired upon his home two weeks ago, killing six people, including two of his children.