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Coalition Troops Launch Afghan Operation

July 4, 2003

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ U.S.-led coalition forces launched an operation in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan aimed at denying al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives a haven in Pakistan border regions, a military spokesman said Friday.

Operation Haven Denial, centered in Paktika and Khost, began Wednesday, Lt. Douglas Lefforge said in a statement released from Bagram Air Base, the U.S. military headquarters located north of Kabul.

``The purpose of this operation is to prevent the re-emergence of terrorism, deny anti-coalition fighters sanctuary and prevent further attacks against NGOs (nongovernment organizations), coalition forces and equipment,″ Lefforge said.

Attacks against foreign aid workers and international soldiers in Afghanistan have increased in recent months. The violence is usually blamed on al-Qaida, Taliban remnants and loyalists of renegade rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government has repeatedly expressed concern about fleeing Taliban finding sanctuary in the Pakistan border regions.

A semiautonomous zone on the Pakistan side of the border is inhabited by tribesmen who, like most Taliban, are ethnic Pashtuns. The tribesman have publicly stated their support for the Taliban and said they would offer them protection since a U.S.-led war in 2001 toppled the Taliban regime.

Pakistan has deployed its own soldiers in the region and has arrested nearly 500 suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members. The Afghan government, however, is still concerned that fugitive Taliban are finding allies within some elements of the Pakistani intelligence agency. Pakistan has denied this.

On Thursday, Pakistani authorities raided a house in Thatta, a remote village in southern Pakistan, and arrested five men and one woman suspected of having links to al-Qaida, Thatta police chief Nadir Khoso said in a telephone interview. He said police had received a tip before the raid but did not say what evidence linked them to al-Qaida.

The U.S. military in Bagram also said that special forces found an improvised explosive devise Thursday hidden beneath a bridge in Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan and disarmed it, Lefforge said in his statement. There were no injuries or damage.

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