British commandos in battle with Taliban fighters

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The Independent Online

British troops today fought a battle with a "substantial force" of Taliban or al-Qa'ida fighters in mountains in eastern Afghanistan, the senior British commander said.

Brigadier Roger Lane said Royal Marine commandos were sent to eastern Paktia province after an Australian special forces patrol came under fire yesterday. No coalition casualties were reported but some enemy fighters have been killed, he said.

"I can confirm that the coalition has made contact with the enemy and that some have been killed. A number of attacks by air have been conducted," he said.

Brig. Lane said Australian and American forces were involved in the British-led mission, named Operation Condor.

"I've deployed elements of 45 Commando group equipped with the full range of combat power by air and by road to close with the enemy and destroy them in an area historically used by the Taliban," Brig. Lane said.

He said the Australian special forces patrol "was interdicted and shot at from a number of locations, and the battle group is now going to close with them and kill the enemy."

Suspected al-Qaida or Taliban fighters had been behind the attack on the patrol. He declined to say how many enemy fighters there were, but said "it is clear that it is a substantial enemy force" and coalition forces, backed by artillery, had identified a number of enemy positions to target.

Brig. Lane said the fighting was taking place in a mountainous area at an altitude of 8,000 feet, but declined to be more specific.

The US-led coalition has been stepping up its search in eastern Afghanistan for al-Qaida and Taliban holdouts, who they say have dispersed into small groups and blended in with local residents or fled across the border to neighboring Pakistan.