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U.S., Afghan forces seeking fleeing Taliban

| Saturday, Sept. 6, 2003

QALAT, Afghanistan -- Afghan government forces moved deeper into the rugged southern province of Zabul in their search for suspected Taliban militants believed to have escaped a nine-day battle that killed dozens of insurgents, an Afghan commander said Friday.

Haji Saifullah Khan, the top commander in the area, said his soldiers followed Taliban to the district of Mizan, where they retreated after fleeing Dai Chupan -- the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since the U.S.-led coalition ousted the hardline religious militia in late 2001.

"We are trying to capture them," said Khan. "It's quiet now."

Hundreds of Afghan forces and dozens of U.S. troops remained in Dai Chupan searching for Taliban holdouts. American forces were also carrying out Operation Mountain Viper in eastern Paktika province, near the border with Afghanistan.

Last week, two American soldiers died in a firefight in Paktika that also killed four suspected insurgents.

In Pakistan, government troops were called into the tribal region bordering Paktika in a renewed hunt for fleeing Taliban militants. U.S. and Afghan officials have long complained that the insurgents are using Pakistan as a safe haven -- crossing over the porous border to launch attacks.

At least 24 Pakistani military helicopters moved into the border regions in Waziristan, a tribal region in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, witnesses and government officials said

Witnesses said several of the helicopters carried "foreign" forces, an apparent reference to U.S. troops.

Diplomats and local Pakistani government officials acknowledge the U.S. military has previously deployed special forces into the tribal areas, but their whereabouts and numbers are kept secret and they keep a low profile, largely because of the deeply conservative nature of the region.

The government in Islamabad has denied the presence of U.S. troops on its territory.

Afghan officials claimed victory in the Dai Chupan fighting on Thursday, but the U.S. military said its special operations soldiers considered the battle ongoing.

"There has been relatively light resistance in the last 24 hours, but ... we're going to press on," Col. Rodney Davis told reporters at Bagram Air Base, the U.S.-led coalition's headquarters north of the capital, Kabul. "We are taking the fight to the enemy."

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