U.S. troops sweep 2 northeast areas in Afghanistan

Taliban's influence may be expanding

November 11, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KABUL, Afghanistan - American forces opened a large-scale airborne assault against suspected Taliban and other anti-government forces in two mountainous northeastern provinces over the weekend, a U.S. military spokesman said yesterday.

The assault is the first big sweep by the American military against these fighters in the remote mountains of the Hindu Kush, and it suggests that militants have spread their influence to new areas.

Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division were dropped by air Friday into the Kunar and Nuristan provinces "to clear the area of anticoalition and antigovernment fighters," an American military spokesman, Col. Rodney Davis, said in a brief statement.

Local residents and aid workers had been reporting increased air and vehicle activity in the area for several days. Forces loyal to a renegade commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has declared a holy war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, are thought to be in the area and may be the target of the operation. U.S. troops in the Kunar Province have come under rocket attacks recently.

Both provinces share a rugged mountainous border with Pakistan, where sympathy for the Taliban and Hekmatyar remains strong.

But tribal leaders from Nuristan complained during the weekend that American forces were mistaken in attacking the province. Maulavi Ghulam Rabbani, a longtime religious leader and guerrilla commander allied to the government, said U.S. planes had bombed and fired upon his home two weeks ago, killing six people, including two of his children.

Rabbani, 60, said American planes and helicopters opened a three-hour attack on Arans, his home village in Nuristan, on the night of Oct. 30.

"Three planes came," he said. "First they bombed the mosque. My 18-year-old son was sleeping in the mosque, and he was killed. When they started bombing, the people in the village started fleeing, and my 21-year-old daughter was shot down by a plane as she was running in the street."

A 75-year-old woman and three of his young cousins were also killed, he said.

Davis, the U.S. military spokesman, said in an e-mail message that he was unable to confirm whether American planes had attacked the village. A United Nations official in Kabul said the United States had bombed the village mistakenly and had been trying to target the house of one of Hekmatyar's commanders.

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