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Afghanistan: U.S. Offensive Continues

Kabul, 4 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. warplanes dropped bombs in two areas of eastern Afghanistan today, targeting the village of Gardez and an airport near Khost. The bombing raids on Gardez were a continuation of an intensive weekend offensive by U.S.-led forces against the remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters hiding in the Arma mountains.

One U.S. soldier and at least three Afghan allies have been killed in what is reportedly the biggest U.S.-led ground offensive of the five-month Afghan military campaign. DPA reports U.S. warplanes dropped 270 bombs yesterday.

In a separate development, U.S. troops stationed at an airport in Khost were today attacked with rockets and small-arms fire. After returning fire, U.S. forces called in air support which bombed the area.

There were no immediate reports on casualties. Khost airport, located some 70 kilometers east from the Arma mountains, is serving as a forward base for U.S. troops.

In Kabul, about 200 Afghan commanders are to begin talks today in Kabul on forming a new army for Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the death toll is rising following an earthquake on 3 March. A UN official now says some 50 people are feared dead and at least 100 missing in two northern Afghan villages after a powerful earthquake yesterday sparked major landslides.

Khaled Mansour of the UN World Food Program says the two villages in Samangan province are located between two mountains.

Reports of the death toll have oscillated since the earthquake struck yesterday in the Hindu Kush mountains north of Kabul. Initial reports said five people had died during the quake. Then, the Bakhtar news agency reported that two people had died in Kabul.

The earthquake was also felt in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, in areas of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the Indian capital, New Delhi. Seismologists said the earthquake measured 7.2 on the Richter scale but that its epicenter was deep underground making it less devastating than could have been expected.