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Afghanistan: U.S. Special Forces Battle Fighters In Kandahar Province

Bagram, Afghanistan; 28 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Special Forces and their Afghan allies today are locked in battle with a group of about 80 renegade fighters near a cave complex in the mountains of the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. U.S. military spokesman Roger King said U.S. B-1 bombers and European fighter jets bombed the area repeatedly overnight after a shoot-out yesterday near Adi Ghar Mountain about 25 kilometers north of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at Spin Boldak.

Some 200 U.S. Special Forces were also deployed, and more are being sent to the battle today, making it the largest engagement against enemy forces in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda in southeastern Afghanistan last spring.

King did not specify whether the renegade fighters are former members of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but he did say that they are thought to be linked to renegade warlord and former Afghan Prime Minster Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. "Our intelligence leads us to believe that they are most closely aligned with [the] Hizb-e Islami movement, which is Hekmatyar's military arm. We've had reports over the last several months that [Hekmatyar] has been attempting to consolidate with remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. So they would all go under the heading of enemy forces -- anticoalition forces. But that's who we believe they are," King said.

King said 18 of the renegade fighters were killed overnight. He said there were no casualties among the U.S. troops or their Afghan allies.