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Afghanistan: U.S. Adds More Troops To Offensive

Gardez, Afghanistan; 5 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. military stepped up military strikes in eastern Afghanistan with a major movement of troops to the mountains of Paktia Province. Major Bryan Hilferty told the Reuters news agency that the army today brought three battalions to Bargram Air Force Base north of Kabul to assist in the fight against Taliban and Al-Qaeda holdouts. He said about 1,000 U.S. troops are actively involved in the battle, while another 1,000 Afghan and European allies are fighting or blocking their enemies' escape routes.

Warplanes bombarded suspected hideouts in what U.S. officials are calling the largest air and ground offensive since military operations began in October.

Several hundred fighters are believed to be hiding out in the mountains, and have been putting up fierce resistance.

Eight U.S. servicemen have died in the fighting since 1 March, and a Canadian journalist was injured yesterday in an ambush.

At Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, U.S. army chaplains held memorial ceremonies for seven soldiers killed in Afghanistan, whose bodies were brought to Germany for transfer to the U.S.