- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 28 (UPI) — U.S. forces have launched a second major operation in Afghanistan as part of their efforts to comb the country's caves and mountains for the remnants of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, the U.S. Central Command announced Friday.

"Operation Desert Lion kicked off Thursday when coalition task force 82 conducted an air assault into the Kohe Safi Mountains in northeastern Afghanistan," the statement said.

"Operation Desert Lion" comes as hundreds of U.S. soldiers search for the Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in former Taliban stronghold of southern Kandahar province. The "Operation Valiant Strike" in Kandahar was launched almost simultaneously with the Iraq war.

On the second day of the "Operation Desert Lion," troops from the 2nd battalion, 505th parachute infantry regiment discovered two caches that included 25 107 mm rockets, 72 122 mm mortar rounds, 40 82 mm recoilless rifle rounds, 100 82 mm mortar rounds, and 122 cases of 12.7 mm machine gun ammunition, along with numerous fuses. The caches were blown in place, CENTCOM said.

Coalition task force 82 soldiers discovered a cache in Orgun province on Thursday, following a tip from two Afghan citizens. The cache included 24 82 mm mortar rounds, 22 82 mm fuses, 17 rocket propelled grenade boosters, 15 82 mm recoilless rifle rounds, along with multiple cases of 14.5 mm and 12.7 mm machine gun ammunition, as well as powder-based explosives.

A U.S. military spokesman told reporters at the Bagram airbase, near Kabul, that so far U.S. troops have made no arrests during "Operation Desert Lion." Valiant Strike has resulted in the arrest of several people and the discovery of large amounts of weapons and ammunition

Thousands of U.S. and allied troops are searching Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden and members of his al-Qaida network, prime suspects in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the U.S. military office at Bagram airbase said the 7th battalion of the Afghan national army graduated more than 600 soldiers on Thursday at the Kabul military training center.

This battalion will provide soldiers to bring the first two battalions up to full strength. The graduation brings the total Afghan national army numbers to more than 3,000 soldiers.

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