- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 15, 2003

From combined dispatches
BAGRAM, Afghanistan U.S.-led coalition planes carried out more raids on suspected Taliban hide-outs in Afghanistan yesterday as a team of Afghan officials arrived to investigate reports of civilian deaths in earlier bombings.
Haji Pir Mohammed, deputy governor of the southwestern province of Helmand, said he led a six-member team to the Baghran Valley, where local officials and villagers reported the deaths of at least 17 men, women and children since the bombardment began Sunday.
Mr. Mohammed said he had seen dead bodies but could not say whether they were civilians or fighters from Afghanistan's ousted fundamentalist Taliban government.
"I can't say how many people were killed because the area is covered with snow and it has high mountains. There could be dead bodies under the snow," he said by phone from the provincial capital, Lashkargah.
U.S. military officials have said there is no evidence of civilian deaths.
They say as many as 100 Taliban fighters have been hiding in caves in the valley, where an ambush of U.S. Special Forces this week triggered the latest bombing raids.
"There have been no reports of civilian or coalition casualties based upon the searches that were done yesterday," U.S. military spokesman Col. Roger King told reporters at the coalition headquarters in Bagram, north of Kabul.
In a pre-dawn raid yesterday, an AC-130 gunship, B-1 bomber and A-10 aircraft destroyed three caves in the Baghran Valley, where militants were believed to be holed up.
Col. King said there could be 30 to 100 people suspected of being enemy fighters in the area, which could be the biggest concentration since rebels were attacked in nearby Kandahar province last month.
"It is a relatively long valley. Who knows? There may be more somewhere else," Col. King said.
Col. King said U.S. and coalition soldiers found rocket-launcher tubes and empty weapon cases in the caves, indicating fighters had been in the area recently.
The soldiers "did find evidence that somebody had opened up a lot of ammunition taken the weapons out of the cases and left the cases empty, which to our mind means that they have taken their ammunition and gone somewhere where they expect to use it," he said.
There has been an increase in rebel activity in recent weeks in southern Afghanistan.

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