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U.S. Arrests 2 Midlevel Taliban Leaders

February 16, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ U.S. forces have arrested two midlevel Taliban leaders believed linked to recent violence in southern Afghanistan, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.

Special operations forces traveling by helicopter raided a village in Helmand province after sunrise Saturday and detained about 40 people, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty.

``Two of them we have identified as midlevel Taliban leaders,″ Hilferty told a press conference in the capital, Kabul. He said the other detainees were being screened and would likely be released soon.

On Sunday, the local government chief in Musaqala district where the raid took place identified the suspects as Mulvi Abdul Ghafar and Gul Agha _ suspected of ties to top Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah.

Hilferty didn’t identify the two suspects and said he didn’t know if they were linked to Dadullah.

He said a ``variety of intelligence sources″ had led to the raid, conducted by dozens of U.S. troops from special forces infantry and aviation units. No one was injured and no shots were fired.

Hilferty said the two Taliban arrested ``have been involved in recent violence in the Helmand province area,″ though he gave no details.

In early January, a bombing killed 15 Afghan civilians in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s main southern city. He said there was no evidence of a direct link between the two men and the Kandahar bombing.

Taliban and al-Qaida guerrillas are active in the lawless south and east of Afghanistan _ despite efforts of 11,000 U.S.-led forces trying to hunt them down _ often launching attacks on government targets and aid workers in an effort to undermine the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

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