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Wave of rocket attacks hits US forces in Afghanistan

Topic: Military Situation

Archives: March 2003

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Mar 21, 2003

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFP) - US forces in Afghanistan were pounded by rockets launched by suspected extremists as coalition troops continued a major al-Qaeda hunt, the US military said.

Spokesman Colonel Roger King said Friday more than a dozen rockets were targeted at three separate US bases in what was the largest assault on US forces in almost five months.

The attacks came as up to 1,000 personnel continued a major air and ground offensive against al-Qaeda, code-named "Valiant Strike", in mountains near the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

King refused to link the attacks, which occurred over a 24-hour period in southeastern Paktika and Khost provinces and central Uruzgan, to the start of US-led hostilities in Iraq.

"Special Forces in Orgun (in Paktika) reported six 107 mm rockets impacting near their base at around 6:00 pm (1330 GMT) Thursday," King told reporters at the US military's Afghan command on Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

"Four rockets were fired one hour later to the north of the base, followed by a last round at 10:00 pm (1730 GMT)."

"This last rocket fell four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the base and none of the rockets fell within 500 metres of the base. There were no casualties and no material damage," King said.

King said US Special Forces also observed missile fire in Khost against a border post on the nearby frontier with Pakistan at around 2:00 am Friday (2130 GMT Thursday).

He said fire was returned and close air support from an A-10 aircraft dropped several bombs on the suspected positions of the attackers. Again there were no US casualties or damage reports.

At Deh Rawood in the central province of Uruzgan, US Special Forces reported a rocket fired at an observation tower near one of their outposts at around 2:00 am Friday (2145 GMT Thursday).

King said the rocket fell 150 metres short of its apparent target.

Rocket attacks against US outposts in Afghanistan occur frequently, but few hit their mark.

The attacks came as almost 600 ground troops backed by heavily armed helicopters continued Valiant Strike, which was launched at dawn Thursday in the Sami Ghar mountains east of Kandahar and close to the Pakistan border.

Afghanistan's frontier with Pakistan is thought to conceal numerous al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, many of whom are sheltering from intensified hunts on the Pakistan side of the border following several key arrests.

King said US troops had poured into the villages of Gari Kaloay and Sekandarzay, around 140 kilometres (87 miles) east of the city of Kandahar, but had not encountered any opposition.

"Operation Valiant Strike continues, there has been no contact with the enemy in the past 24 hours," King said.

"It is in a mountainous and isolated area, with villages in the valleys and caves at altitude. Our troops have positioned their forces in the area and have launched operations and searches," King said.

Questioned on the objective of Valiant Strike, King said the target was a "small number of al-Qaeda members" but mainly Afghans loyal to other extremist groups.

Believed to be one of the largest operations in the US-led coalition's 17-month operation in Afghanistan, Valiant Strike comes on the heels of a several major offensives against al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies.

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