U.S. and Coalition Forces Pound Afghan Rebel Group

From Associated Press

U.S. and coalition forces were fighting a pitched battle against a group of about 80 rebels aligned with renegade leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the largest-scale fighting since Operation Anaconda nine months ago, the U.S. military said today.

At least 18 rebel fighters were killed, and there were no coalition casualties, U.S. military spokesman Roger King said from Bagram air base.

American war planes attacked enemy positions with B-1 bombers, F-16s and AC-130 gunships, King said.

The fighting in mountains in southeastern Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan was triggered by a small shootout nearby in which one man was killed, one injured and one detained, King said.

He said the detained man told them under questioning that a large group of men had massed in the mountainous region.

King said the military sent Apache helicopters to the area to investigate, and they came under small-arms fire. The military responded with a quick-reaction force of fighter aircraft that were continuing to pound the remote region with 500- and 2,000-pound bombs.

He said some of the fighters were dug into caves.

King said that it is believed the rebel fighters, while loyal to Hekmatyar, have sympathies and possible links to the ousted Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Many Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects fled into Pakistan after the U.S. bombardment in late 2001.

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