Sun, Mar 14, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US military launches operation `Mountain Storm'

REUTERS , KABUL

US-led forces have launched a new operation across a broad area of the south and east of Afghanistan aimed at capturing top al-Qaeda and Taleban militants, the US military said yesterday.

The operation, codenamed "Mountain Storm," was launched on March 7 and involved troops from the 13,500-strong US-led force backed by air support, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty told a news briefing.

"We believe that this will help bring the heads of the terrorist organizations to justice by continuing to place pressure on them," he said.

Asked whether the operation could lead to the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Hilferty replied:

"This operation is aimed like the rest at rebuilding and reconstructing and providing enduring security in Afghanistan, so it's certainly about more than one person."

"We do have confidence though, and the leaders of al-Qaeda and the leaders of the Taliban need to be brought to justice and they will be."

Hilferty said "Mountain Storm" was a continuation of previous operations which had involved patrols, searches and small-scale air assaults, but declined to provide details.

"We have air support, close-fire support from the air 24-hours a day, circling overhead ready to assist coalition forces. It is a continuing effort to keep pressure on the terrorist organisations and their infrastructure."

US defense officials in Washington on Friday described "Mountain Storm" as a broad spring offensive to hunt down al-Qaeda fugitives, including bin Laden.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters it was timed to exploit improving weather conditions in the remote, mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where bin Laden is thought to be hiding.

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