U.S. Troops Raid Afghanistan in Hunt for Al Qaeda

Published March 20, 2003

| FoxNews.com

The timing of a U.S. military raid in Afghanistan that started around the same time American troops lobbed an opening strike against Iraq was a coincidence, an Army spokesman told reporters.

"Operations in Afghanistan are conducted completely independent of any operations in other sectors," Col. Roger King said. An operation of similar size took place in neighboring Helmand province about a month ago. Several suspected militants were killed and about 30 were captured.

Operation Valiant Strike would focus on areas east of Kandahar, King said. The province is the former spiritual headquarters of the ousted Taliban regime, which is allied with the Al Qaeda network suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks.

About 1,000 troops from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were combing southeastern Afghanistan for members of Al Qaeda, military officials said.

Valiant Strike began with an early morning air assault assisted by a ground convoy in the remote, mountainous area of southern Kandahar province, King said. He declined to say what the goal of the operation was or whether it targeted the elusive Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.

The operation was likely to continue for two or three days, said Lt. Coryll Angel, a U.S. military spokesman in Kandahar.

The assault was one of the biggest in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda just over a year ago, King said. That eight-day battle pitted hundreds of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters against thousands of American and allied Afghan troops.

Since then, the multinational, U.S.-led coalition headquartered at Bagram Air Base has carried out at least a dozen major offensives.

The latest assault involved Blackhawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters along with armored Humvee vehicles.

The military launched the operation after receiving "a mosaic of different intelligence inputs" of activity in the area, King said. Radio transmissions had been detected coming from caves above the villages, military officials in Washington said.

The operation was led by the 800-soldier battalion known as the "White Devils," part of the 82nd Airborne division, though additional ground support teams were also taking part, King and other Army officials said.

There have been a series of raids on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the weeks since authorities captured Al Qaeda's No. 3 figure, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in Pakistan on March 1. Authorities have said Mohammed is giving information to U.S. interrogators and have said some of the subsequent arrests came as a result of his capture.

Mohammed, an alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, is being interrogated by American officials at an undisclosed location.

The agents who captured him in a suburb of Islamabad found computers, mobile telephones, documents and other evidence that could help lead to other Al Qaeda members.

There have been increased attacks on Afghan government posts in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. The authorities have blamed remnants of Taliban, Al Qaeda and loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade rebel commander labeled a terrorist by the United States.

On Wednesday, Taliban soldiers ambushed an Afghan government post in southern Afghanistan, killing three Afghan soldiers, a security official said.

The attackers slit the throats of the soldiers at the Sherabik post, near the Pakistani border, said Abdul Razzak Panjshiri, security chief in the Spinboldak area. Five Taliban attackers were arrested, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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