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American Warplanes Swing Into Action

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan says U.S. warplanes yesterday struck enemy fighters who were digging a mortar position above a forward base of American and Afghan troops hunting for Taliban and al-Qaida in eastern Afghanistan.

Major Brian Hilferty says the U.S. and Afghan soldiers spotted more than 10 gunmen setting up a mortar on a hill above their position several miles from the Pakistani border and south of the city of Khost.

He says the Americans called in A-10 gunships, which "neutralized" the mortar. Coalition troops then inspected the area but found no bodies.

"Either (the A-10s) had not killed them at all, or they killed somebody or wounded them and people dragged them off," says Hilferty, adding that most of the fighters had weapons and some were observing the U.S. soldiers below.

"They were going to dig the mortar and aim it at our position," explains Hilferty. "The troops later found some equipment but no mortar at the site."

U.S. Special Forces and coalition troops are searching the mountains around Khost for Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, thought to be operating in small groups in Paktia province. A British-led force of 1,000 troops is searching north of Khost in a sweep called Operation Condor.

British military spokesman Col. Ben Curry said British commandos were "finalizing the clearing of their area of operation" and regrouping. He would not say if the operation, now in its seventh day, was coming to a close. On Tuesday, British troops found a weapons cache, including an 82mm mortar, more than 150 shells, and small arms.

Also, a British soldier suffered severe head injuries when his truck was involved in an accident three miles outside Khost. The soldier, who was driving the vehicle, was in serious condition, but his life was not in danger, Curry said. The military was investigating the accident.

On Tuesday, Canada said it would bring home its 800 ground troops from Afghanistan this summer. Defense Minister Art Eggleton said Navy, Air and Special Forces would continue to help with the campaign.

Eggleton said Canada's military resources were stretched by peacekeeping missions and other duties around the world, making it difficult to keep the 800 troops stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

In April, a U.S. plane mistakenly bombed Canadian troops in Afghanistan, killing four soldiers and wounding eight. Eggleton said the decision to withdraw was unrelated to the bombing accident.

U.S. and French soldiers are training a new national army for Afghanistan that coalition forces hope will be able to take over the work of securing borders and protecting the new government from al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday he hopes to have the first 2,000 to 3,000 Afghan soldiers trained within six months.

In other war-related developments:

  • A source quoted by the New York Daily News says law enforcement officials probing the events of Sept. 11 now believe that hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta visited the World Trade Center to doublecheck its Global Positioning System coordinates. The report says Atta's visits to the twin towers could have been on Sept. 9 and 10.
  • House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal on a bill that would spend billions on preparations for a biological disaster. The bill calls for stockpiling vaccines, adds more border inspectors to protect food supplies, and tightens regulations on laboratories working with deadly agents.
  • Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says it's inevitable that terrorists will acquire weapons of mass destruction. He told a Senate committee that Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea are aggressively trying to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons — and won't hesitate to use them.
  • For the first time in more than 200 years, Congress plans to hold a special session in New York City. The session on September sixth is intended as a show of support for New York in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center.
  • A batch of mail at the International Monetary Fund has tested positive for anthrax. It's being tested again, and employees who worked in the mailroom and the loading dock area were sent home.
  • The World Bank has told 12-hundred employees not to report to work until tomorrow, after a preliminary anthrax test of mail was positive. The Bank has been testing its mail for anthrax since last autumn's anthrax letter attacks.
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