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Cave-Clearing Ops Proceed in Spin Boldak Area

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2003 – Coalition soldiers continue to clear caves in the Spin Boldak area, U.S. officials said in Afghanistan.

Between 300 and 350 soldiers are involved in Operation Mongoose, said Army Maj. Bob Hepner, a spokesman with Combined Joint Task Force180.

He said 75 caves that could hide men or equipment were identified in the area. To date, 46 have been cleared. Soldiers and European-ally F-16 fighter pilots destroyed another 15 caves -- the soldiers marked them with lasers and the pilots sealed them with bombs.

The operations started Jan. 28 when U.S. Special Forces soldiers, 82nd Airborne Division troopers and Afghan militia went into the Adi Gahr Mountains after local Afghans reported that followers of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar were holed up there. Heavy fighting ensued; U.S. officials reported 18 enemy fighters were killed in the engagement.

Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, had been generally thought to be an unaligned, renegade guerrilla leader. Flyers distributed last year in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, however, claimed Hekmatyar had joined forces with al Qaeda terrorists.

Following the mountain battle, coalition soldiers found arms caches, intelligence information and animals in the caves. "Some of the caves were used for a long time," officials in Afghanistan said.

They said Operation Mongoose will continue "until it's done."

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