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Four Al-Qaida Fighters Believed Killed in Clashes

BY Admin  April 30, 2002 at 3:35 PM EST

A small unit of Australian coalition troops had been scouting out the area when a band of suspected al-Qaida members fired at them with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades Monday morning. According to Australian military spokesman Brig. Mike Hannan, two al-Qaida fighters are believed to have been killed in the exchange.

The second al-Qaida encounter came before dawn Tuesday, when a coalition patrol, now backed by some 200 U.S. troops, ambushed a group of al-Qaida fighters, killing two of them. No allied forces were reported hurt in either attack.

The clashes took place in the area where Operation Anaconda, the largest U.S.-led ground offensive in Afghanistan, was carried out in March.

Special forces have been searching the region around Khost for Taliban and al-Qaida members who are thought to be seeking refuge in the area’s mountains and villages. The allied forces have come under fire on several occasions.

“I think there’s still some mid-level al-Qaida leadership out there,” Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, commander of coalition ground forces, told reporters Tuesday. “I think they still do have a command and control structure in place. From all the reports that I get from a variety of intelligence sources it tells me that they can still communicate.”

According to Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a U.S. military spokesman, coalition forces “found and searched several caves and building complexes, discovering mortars, grenades and machine-gun ammunition” in the region during searches Monday and Tuesday.

Rival warlords continue to fight in nearby areas of eastern Afghanistan, causing instability that could threaten support for the interim government. Allied forces consider eastern Afghanistan a likely hotbed of Taliban and al-Qaida fugitives.