- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan After weeks of no reported combat with al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, American-led forces killed several hostile forces in clashes, the U.S. command said yesterday.
Rockets also were fired at a U.S.-controlled airstrip in southeastern Afghanistan, stark reminders that this country's struggle to overcome 23 years of war is far from over.
There were no casualties among U.S. Special Forces or their Afghan allies in the Saturday skirmish that erupted when a joint patrol came under fire, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Bryan Hilferty said. Troops called in support from an AC-130 airborne gunship but would not say where the clash took place, he said.
The troops could not confirm the death toll among the attackers but said the patrol believed it had "killed several terrorists" because "the AC-130 saw them, fired, and then didn't see them any more," the spokesman added.
The second attack took place outside Khost, an eastern city near the Pakistani border. Khost is believed to be one of the last Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan since the fundamentalist Islamic regime was toppled in December.
Accounts of what happened in Khost vary. Fazal Mir, a local leader who was contacted by satellite phone, said unidentified attackers fired three rockets at the airstrip around midnight. A building was hit, injuring three Afghans, according to him.
In Kabul, however, Tribal Affairs Minister Amanullah Zadran said two BM-12 missiles exploded about four miles from the airport and no one was hurt.
Maj. David Rasmussen, a U.S. Army operations officer, said people at the scene heard what sounded like rockets or mortars hit the southwest end of the field early yesterday but he added that no buildings were hit and there were no injuries. No American troops were at the base at the time, he said.
The officer said al Qaeda and Taliban forces are believed to be behind several recent attacks on international forces and their Afghan allies. But many Afghans in the Khost area blame recent clashes on U.S.-funded warlords vying for supremacy.
The attacks underscored the challenges facing interim leader Hamid Karzai's administration as it prepares for the return of the country's exiled king to convene a June "loya jirga," or grand council, to select a new government. But there also were tentative signs of peace yesterday.
Fighting west of Kabul ceased as an emissary was sent from the capital to broker a truce between rival commanders engaged in a two-day turf battle.
No governor has been appointed in Wardak province, where fighting broke out Friday between two ethnic Pashtun commanders around Khoja Kotkai, 30 miles west of Kabul.
The emissary, Gov. Taj Mohammad of Kabul province, played down the conflict, saying it was an "internal problem" between the two men and that neither was trying to challenge the interim government.

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