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Afghanistan: U.S. Forces Battle Fighters In Kandahar

Baghram, 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 mountain cave complex in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar. U.S. military spokesman Roger King says U.S. B-1 bombers and European fighter jets bombed the area repeatedly overnight after a shootout yesterday near Adi Ghar Mountain about 25 kilometers north of the Afghan-Pakistan border at Spin Boldak.

Some 200 U.S. Special Forces also were 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 said 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] Hezb-i-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 18 of the renegade fighters were killed overnight. He said there were no casualties among the U.S. troops or their Afghan allies.