Hundreds of US-led troops have launched an offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan, while a bomb attack near the capital killed three German nationals, officials said today.
The offensive involving ground troops and airstrikes in Tora Bora region of eastern Nangarhar province is targeting “hundreds of foreign fighters” who are using dug-in fighting positions, said coalition spokeswoman Capt Vanessa Bowman.
The remote mountainous area bordering Pakistan was heavily bombarded in late 2001 by US troops hunting Osama bin Laden and his associates following the September 11 attacks in America. Bin Laden is believed to have escaped that assault.
“This region has provided an ideal environment to conceal enemy support bases and training sites, as well as plan and launch attacks aimed at terrorising innocent civilians, both inside and outside the region,” Bowman said in a statement released today by the Pentagon.
There were no immediate reports of casualties among militants or US and Afghan troops.
Sensitive to criticism over rising civilian casualties in Afghanistan, US officials said they had carefully chosen targets for air strikes.
Near the capital Kabul, meanwhile, a bomb attack near a two-vehicle convoy today killed three German police officers and wounded a fourth, officials said.
The explosion near the convoy, which was travelling on an unpaved road about six miles south-east of Kabul, turned one of the two vehicles onto its side and left it badly damaged.
Germany’s Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the three Germans were police officers deployed to Afghanistan to protect the German Embassy.
In a statement, he characterised the explosion as an “underhanded attack.”
The officers apparently were on their way to a training session. Schaeuble said they were travelling in a “particularly well-protected vehicle.”
He said Germany’s Federal Crime Office was sending experts to Afghanistan to help investigate the explosion. The wounded officer, who did not suffer life-threatening injuries, was being treated by the German military at a Kabul base.
Amir Mohammad, a police officer, said he believed the bomb was a land mine, but it was not clear if the mine was recently planted or an old one.
After the explosion, two helicopters arrived at the scene. One took the bodies away, said Mohammad Sharif, a witness who has a shop near the area.
Later, French troops with anti-mine equipment and U.S. troops arrived at the scene. Afghan police kept reporters from getting close to the site, as forensic experts collected evidence.
Afghanistan has suffered nearly three decades of civil war and conflict, and is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.