U.S. hunts al-Qaida in Afghanistan

BAGRAMI, Afghanistan – Hundreds of U.S.-led troops have launched an offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in an area of eastern Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden once hid, officials said Wednesday.
A bomb attack near the capital, meanwhile, killed three German police officers assigned to protect their country’s embassy, and a British national was shot and killed in Kabul.

The offensive involving ground troops and airstrikes in Tora Bora region of eastern Nangarhar province is targeting “hundreds of foreign fighters” who are using dug-in fighting positions, said coalition spokeswoman Capt. Vanessa Bowman.

The remote mountainous area bordering Pakistan was heavily bombarded in late 2001 by U.S. troops hunting bin Laden and his associates following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“This region has provided an ideal environment to conceal enemy support bases and training sites, as well as plan and launch attacks aimed at terrorizing innocent civilians, both inside and outside the region,” Bowman said in a statement released later Wednesday by the Pentagon.

There were no immediate reports of casualties among militants or U.S. and Afghan troops.

Sensitive to criticism over rising civilian casualties in Afghanistan, U.S officials said they had carefully chosen targets for air strikes.

The bomb that killed the three Germans wounded a fourth, officials said.

The explosion near the two-vehicle convoy, which was traveling on an unpaved road about six miles southeast of Kabul, turned one of the two vehicles onto its side and left it badly damaged.

Afghanistan has suffered nearly three decades of civil war and conflict, and is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

The British Embassy would not disclose the identity of the British national who was shot and killed, or the circumstances leading up to the death.

Zemari Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said police arrested two Afghan men suspected in the slaying.

The suspects and victim were employees of ArmorGroup, a private security company protecting a number of Afghan and international clients, including the British Embassy in Kabul, Bashary said.

Separately, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops clashed with militants in central Logar province on Tuesday, killing nine suspected militants, the Interior Ministry said. No police or coalition troops were wounded in the clash, it said.

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