© St. Petersburg Times, published March 20, 2003
BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- About 1,000 U.S. troops launched a raid on villages in southeastern Afghanistan today, hunting for members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in the biggest U.S. operation in just more than a year, military officials said.
Helicopters ferried troops from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division to the remote, mountainous area as the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his terror network intensified, U.S. military officials said.
The operation, Valiant Strike, began with an early morning air assault near southern Kandahar, the former spiritual headquarters of the Taliban.
Radio transmissions had been detected coming from caves above the villages, military officials said.
It was the largest U.S. military operation in Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda. That eight-day battle involved hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters against thousands of American and allied Afghan troops.
There have been a series of raids on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the weeks since authorities captured al-Qaida's No. 3 figure, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in Pakistan on March 1.
Authorities have said Mohammed, an alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is giving information to U.S. interrogators and have said some of the subsequent arrests came as a result of Mohammed's capture.
There have been increased attacks on Afghan government posts in southern Afghanistan in recent weeks. The authorities have blamed remnants of Taliban, al-Qaida and loyalists of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a renegade rebel commander labeled a terrorist by the United States.
In southern Afghanistan Wednesday, Taliban soldiers ambushed an Afghan government post, killing three Afghan soldiers, a security official said.
The soldiers at Sherabik post, near the Pakistan border, were ambushed and their throats slit by attacking Taliban, said Abdul Razzak Panjshiri, security chief of Spinboldak. Five Taliban attackers were arrested.