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U-S Reinforces Assault Forces in Eastern Afghanistan - 2002-03-06


The commander of U-S forces in Afghanistan says he has added two-to-three hundred more American soldiers to the original assault force of about 800 U-S troops.

General Tommy Franks told reporters in Washington that more attack helicopters also have been brought in.

Earlier, a U-S military field commander said the size of the enemy force battling U-S-led coalition troops in eastern Afghanistan has tripled since last Friday, after fundamentalist tribal leaders in the area called for a holy war against the United States.

Major-General Frank Hagenbeck told reporters near Kabul that U-S intelligence shows 600 to 700 al-Qaida and Taleban troops have filtered into the battle zone, near the border with Pakistan. He said there were only 150 to 200 fighters when the U-S-led offensive in Paktia province began.

The general said U-S-led forces are now dominating the battle and have killed about half of the expanded enemy force.

There have been numerous reports of growing antipathy toward the U-S-led military force near Gardez by local residents -- many of whom backed Afghanistan's former Taleban rulers. But General Tommy Franks said the United States is prepared to battle the terrorist force, which includes Uzbeks and Chechens, until its members are either killed or captured.

Meanwhile, Germany says two German and three Danish peacekeepers have been killed while defusing captured anti-aircraft missiles in the Afghan capital. Seven soldiers were injured in the accident, three of them seriously. Officials say there was no sign of sabotage.

American officers have described the battle in the Shah-e-Kot mountain range as the fiercest of the five-month war on terrorism. The battle is being fought in frigid temperatures at altitudes of 26-hundred to 38-hundred meters. U-S and French warplanes have flown more than 350 strikes against enemy positions.

Australian, Canadian, Danish, French, German and Norwegian soldiers also are participating in the battle, called Operation Anaconda.

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