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Tuesday, 12 March, 2002, 10:16 GMT
Afghan battle lines shift
Afghan soldiers training near Gardez
1,000 Afghan reinforcements have been sent in
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By Susannah Price
BBC correspondent in Kabul

The American-led operation against suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters in eastern Afghanistan has continued, despite the withdrawal of 400 American troops.

At the same time, the Afghan Defence Ministry has sent 1,000 new reinforcements to the area.

For the past 10 days the Americans have been battling against the hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters dug deep into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan

They are sounding increasingly confident of success.

The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has said several have been captured and could provide valuable information about the cave complexes where the remainder are still hiding.

The Americans have withdrawn about a quarter of their forces from the front lines, saying one phase of the conflict has been completed.

Meanwhile, the Afghan reinforcements have been arriving in the area.

Leadership questions

Some Afghan commanders have been highly critical of the American operations, saying their troops have made mistakes.

US soldiers and helicopter at Bagram airbase
The US has trained and clothed many Afghan soldiers
Others point out that the Afghans have more than 20 years' experience of war in this rugged terrain and are far better suited to fighting there.

Whatever the reason for America's decision to scale down, it means the Afghans will now make up the bulk of the force.

This has raised questions over who should be leading it.

An advisor to the governor of Paktia province has said the local administration is not being informed or consulted.

The Americans have provided training, clothing and equipment to many of the Afghan soldiers.

But it seems unlikely they will hand over complete control of the operation to them.

The Afghans have great experience in guerrilla warfare but far less in organised, large-scale ground offensives which might be required to ensure all the al-Qaeda fighters are captured or killed.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"The Afghans have great experience in guerrilla warfare"
See also:

11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan forces gather for final push
11 Mar 02 | South Asia
Taleban a spent force - Karzai
08 Mar 02 | South Asia
Afghan test for US ground warfare
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