New anti-terror operation starts in Afghanistan

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan -- American and Afghan ground forces backed by helicopter gunships fought two groups of insurgents, killing one person, in the first clashes of an anti-terrorism operation in the snowy mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the U.S. military said Tuesday. No coalition troops were hurt.

Far to the south, a car bomb damaged two U.N. offices, injuring two people, and a top policeman blamed al-Qaida and the Taliban, which have stepped up attacks against the limited authority of Afghanistan's central government two years after the hard-liners were driven from power by a U.S.-led coalition.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Rodney Davis said the soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division's "Warrior Brigade" were using Operation Mountain Resolve to hunt for anti-coalition forces in rugged Nuristan province, where the fighting is taking place around 13,000 feet above sea level.

"It is the most dangerous terrain we have operated in since we've been in Afghanistan," Davis said.

The anti-terrorism operation was launched Friday in Nuristan and neighboring Kunar province. It apparently targets elements of a network of insurgents, including al-Qaida, the Taliban and forces loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who has called for a jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

He did not say if there was any fighting Tuesday, but noted the operation was continuing.

A specific goal of the operation is to destroy anti-coalition elements and disrupt their ability to operate in an area of eastern Afghanistan that is 95 miles northeast of Kabul, and close to the border with Pakistan. "The coalition wants to establish blocking positions to prevent the enemy from escaping" and also aims to gather intelligence on insurgents, Davis said.

On Tuesday, a statement purportedly from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, urged Muslims around the world to stop being "cowards" by failing to join the jihads that he and others have called against the "infidel crusading forces."

Omar, who has eluded capture by U.S. forces, said he will remain a leader of the Islamic movement and help create "an Islamic system until I am martyred."

The statement was faxed to The Associated Press in Peshawar, a city in northwestern Pakistan that borders Afghanistan. Mansoor Afghani, a Taliban official, said by telephone the statement was authentic.

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