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Coalition Troops in Firefights With Suspected Al Qaeda Fighters in Afghanistan

U.S.-led special forces engaged suspected Al Qaeda militants in two firefights near the eastern border with Pakistan, killing up to four of them, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said Tuesday. No coalition casualties were reported.

Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck said the clashes occurred Monday and early Tuesday near the eastern Afghan city of Khost.

Almost simultaneously with Hagenbeck's announcement at Bagram air base Austrialian officials said in Canberra that Australian Special Air Service Regiment troops had shot two Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. It was not immediately clear whether two announcements concerned the same events.

Hagenbeck said two suspected Al Qaeda gunmen were shot Monday but their bodies were dragged away by fellow fighters. Two others were killed Tuesday at 4:30 a.m. local time in a follow-up operation.

"We knew how they would react once the sun went down last night. So we were ready for that and we killed two ... as they were coming back through the area," Hagenbeck told reporters at Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty said coalition special forces had been staking out the area, two miles from the Pakistan border, for two days when allied troops came under fire Monday morning.

"We had a special forces reconnaissance team in the area ... those people foolishly fired on them and special forces fired back much more accurately, shooting and possibly killing two of them," Hilferty said.

U.S., British and Afghan soldiers have been scouring the rugged terrain of eastern Afghanistan in search of Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

The clashes occurred the same eastern region where the last major battles against the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were fought in March during Operation Anaconda — the largest U.S.-led ground offensive in Afghanistan.

In Canberra, a spokesman for the Australian Defense Force said an Australian patrol conducting surveillance on a site southeast of Kabul returned fire when four Al Qaeda fighters opened up on them with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades Monday morning.

The spokesman, Brig. Mike Hannan, said the two Al Qaeda fighters were either killed or wounded, but that no Australians were injured.

He said other Australian special forces and troops from the United States 101st Airborne then went into the area.

Even while allied troops patrol eastern Afghanistan, deadly fighting between rival warlords inthe region has been complicating their efforts.

Factional fighting continued nearby in the eastern city of Gardez. Hezat Ullah, a local official, said from Gardez that rockets were fired into the city on Monday, killing three civilians and injuring three more.

Up to 28 people have been killed in fighting there between soldiers loyal to warlord Bacha Khan Zardran and forces of Gardez Gov. Taj Mohammed Wardak.