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Taliban Snipes At U.S. Troops

Guerrillas fired at U.S. soldiers with mortars and machine guns in a troubled eastern province of Afghanistan before retreating toward the Pakistan border, the U.S. military said Monday.

The military said it suffered no casualties in the attack Saturday, the latest in a series of strikes at coalition and Afghan security forces in the south and east of the country usually blamed on resurgent Taliban loyalists.

Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division were patrolling near a U.S. base at Shkin in Paktika province, just a few miles from the border with Pakistan, when they came under attack, according to a statement from Bagram, where the U.S. military operation is headquartered.

The U.S. troops responded with small arms and artillery, trading fire for about an hour before the guerrillas pulled back toward the mountainous border. There was no information on guerrilla casualties.

In another incident Saturday, two rockets landed near a U.S. base in neighboring Khost province, the statement said. There were no reported injuries.

Insurgents often fire rockets at U.S. bases in Afghanistan, but rarely hit their targets. Still, one of five rockets fired in Kabul on Thursday landed in the main base of the international peacekeeping force that patrols the capital, slightly injuring one Canadian civilian worker.

Peacekeepers said they suspected sympathizers of the Taliban or al Qaeda holdouts of trying to mark the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which prompted the U.S.-led operation that swept the Taliban from power at the end of 2001.

Last week, two Taliban officials told The New York Times the group had begun using small guerilla attacks as part of a strategy to wear down U.S. forces and convince Washington to retreat from the country.

A man who identified himself as a Taliban commander told the newspaper he was confident that the U.S., exhausted by a slow, expensive and frustrating conflict, would flee Afghanistan in two or three years, just as Soviet forces had in the 1980's.

"How is it possible that America will continue to do these things for many years?" he asked. "Just think — one plane — how much is it to take off and land?"

Another official, who said he was a Taliban spokesman, claimed fugitive leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was commanding Taliban troops from his Afghan hideout. He said U.S. forces were overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and called for foreign volunteers to aid the Taliban.

The spokesman said he hoped the U.S. would open more fronts in the war on terror.

"We are offering prayers that they should start in one or two more places," he said. "When America goes to open one or two more places it will be good for Muslims."

The two men said the Taliban would kill Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and said the group was responsible for an earlier assassination attempt last year in Kandahar. One of the men said they reserved the right to kill foreign and Afghan aid workers they considered spies.

The Times interviewed the two men separately and on the condition that their real names not be used and the country where they spoke not be named. Their claims could not be independently confirmed.

About 9,800 American troops and 3,000 others remain in Afghanistan carrying out operations against the insurgents, who have becoming increasingly bold in recent months.

More than 100 Taliban were reported killed in about nine days of battles with coalition forces in mountains of southern Zabul province. One U.S. special operations soldier and an unknown number of Afghan troops also died in the fighting.

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