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Afghan Rebels Step Up Attacks Against Foreign Troops

Afghan Rebels Step Up Attacks Against Foreign Troops

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan rebels stepped up their guerrilla campaign against foreign troops in this war-shattered country, hitting U.S. bases across the east with mortar and rocket fire, officials said Monday.

U.S. forces called in air support that smashed a cluster of suspected rebel vehicles and killed at least two attackers Sunday in the eastern border town of Shkin, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Roger King told reporters at Bagram Air Base.

In Kabul, Afghan security forces were searching houses and combing hills to the east of the city for rebels who fired a 122 mm rocket Sunday night into the headquarters of the 22-nation multinational force protecting the capital.

The rocket attack -- launched either from the back of a truck or from a shoulder-fired weapon -- was the most sophisticated strike yet on the 5,000-man International Security Assistance Force, said peacekeeping spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Lobbering of Germany. No one was hurt.

Sunday's was the first rocket attack to hit any ISAF facility, after a year that saw a dozen attacks on peacekeepers miss their targets. The explosion sprayed shrapnel across trees and buildings and damaged two ISAF vehicles inside the compound.

"We do believe that this was targeted at ISAF directly," Lobbering said. "This is a significant difference from the type of attacks that we experienced so far. It's far more sophisticated."

King said the recent violence and rebel attacks were part of a surge in rebel activity after the United States and Britain invaded Iraq earlier this month.

Despite Sunday's rocket attack on ISAF's headquarters, Lobbering said he did not expect security to deteriorate in the Afghan capital because of the war in Iraq.

"However, we are aware that there is a constant threat of attacks like the one that happened last night," he said.

In a worrying sign, posters supposedly written by elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar recently have appeared in eastern Afghanistan, renewing his call for a holy war against U.S. troops and Afghans working with them. The posters link the new holy war directly to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In a separate incident, attackers fired two rockets at another U.S. base in the eastern town of Gardez, but caused no casualties.

Afghan authorities say the Taliban, their al-Qaida allies and forces loyal to a renegade rebel commander are behind the renewed attacks on foreign forces and foreign aid workers.

On Saturday, two U.S. servicemen were killed and one wounded in an ambush in southern Helmand province -- the first American combat deaths in Afghanistan since December.

And on Thursday, an international Red Cross water engineer was shot dead by gunmen in neighboring Kandahar province, birthplace of the hardline Taliban regime that was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001. The body of the slain aid worker -- 39-year-old Ricardo Munguia -- was flown out of Afghanistan on Monday.

U.S. forces and Afghan militias have been conducting sweeps in the south of the country to hunt down anti-government forces.

In southern Afghanistan, the trade minister of the former Taliban regime, Abdul Razzak, was captured by U.S. Special Forces and their Afghan allies, said Khalid Pashtoon, a spokesman for the government in southern Kandahar.

A separate sweep in Ghazni province, southwest of the capital, netted 80 suspected Taliban, among them former deputy education minister Akhund Sayed Shaheed, said Asadullah Khalid, the province's governor.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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