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Afghanistan: Rumsfeld Says U.S. May Send More Troops

Washington, 6 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today that additional American troops may be sent to Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. Rumsfeld made the comment at a Pentagon news conference. He said if the enemy emerges from hiding and engages U.S.-led troops, they would be met with adequate force.

U.S. General Tommy Franks, the top military official in charge of the Afghan war, said at the news conference American forces in Afghanistan now number about 5,200.

The Pentagon is adding about 12 more helicopters to a U.S.-led force locked in a fierce battle with Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Afghan mountains.

Meanwhile, Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai said in Kabul today that the Al-Qaeda hideout currently under fire by U.S.-led troops is the last isolated terrorist base in Afghanistan.

Karzai said in Kabul that the ground and air campaign against the remaining Al-Qaeda and Taliban members will be finished in a day or two.

The commander of the offensive, U.S. Major General Frank Hagenbeck, claimed earlier today that U.S. forces, Afghan and European allies had killed several hundred enemy fighters in clashes east of Gardez.

"They (Al-Qaeda and Taliban) have been funneling, infiltrating fighters into this area, and our estimation is that in the last 24 to 48 hours the number of enemy that we fought over time is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 700 enemy and, conservatively speaking, right now I'm convinced, on the evidence that I've seen, that we've killed at least half of those enemy forces."

But he also said that the local fundamentalists had increased in number because they called a jihad, or holy struggle, against the Americans and coalition partners.

The commander said about 48 U.S. servicemen have been wounded, but half of them are already back in the battle. Eight U.S. servicemen have been killed since 2 March.

Also, the German Defense Ministry said two German and three Danish soldiers were killed today in an accidental explosion in Kabul.

General Harald Kujat, the inspector-general of the German armed forces, reported the incident at a press conference in Berlin: "Five soldiers were killed, of which two were German soldiers and three Danish soldiers. There were three soldiers who were severely wounded, two who were less seriously wounded, and two who were slightly wounded."

Kujat said the soldiers, members of the International Security Assistance Force, were trying to defuse anti-aircraft missiles at a munitions site. He said there were no signs of sabotage and that the explosion was an accident.