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Terrorists launch gun battle with Americans and Afghans.

Gunmen have attacked US and Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan, sparking a battle that lasted several hours.

The incident took place last night in the volatile town of Khost, about 40 miles east of the area where Operation Anaconda was centred.

'Last night, terrorists using machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars attacked coalition forces in Khost. We returned fire and continue to develop the situation as we speak,' said Maj Bryan Hilferty.

The Afghan Islamic Press said gunmen fired heavy machine guns and rockets at a US-occupied airstrip south-east of the town, and at a US-run training base three miles north-east of Khost.

Speaking at Bagram air base near Kabul, Maj Hilferty would not say if there were any US or Afghan casualties, or how many allied troops were in the area. US special forces teams have been operating out of Khost, near the Pakistan border, for some time.

It was unclear whether the attackers were among surviving al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who escaped Operation Anaconda, he said.

Tensions have been running high for months in Khost, which used to contain several al-Qaida training camps for Kashmiri separatists.

Yesterday, gunmen angry over the appointment of the local police chief exchanged fire with security forces in the town's main market, killing one person and injuring three others.

US special forces came under fire at the Khost airport at the beginning of Operation Anaconda but there were no injuries. On March 10, three Afghans from a tribe allied with the United States were gunned down in a drive-by shooting in front of the local government office.

On January 4, gunmen fired on US special forces travelling through the town, killing Sgt Nathan Chapman, the first American soldier to die from hostile fire in Afghanistan.

After the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the US fired Tomahawk missiles at an alQaida camp near Khost in a failed bid to kill Osama bin Laden.

Operation Anaconda was launched on March 2 to clear the eastern Shahe-Kot Valley of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. Gen Tommy Franks declared the operation over on Monday and said it had been a success, although Afghan commanders said most of the al-Qaida and Taliban fighters escaped.

US military officials have said the war in Afghanistan will continue as long as al-Qaida and Taliban forces remain active in the country.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 21, 2002
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