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Report: Army Rangers battle in Afghanistan

By United Press International

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Between 100 and 200 elite U.S. Army Rangers fought Taliban forces inside Afghanistan Friday two news reports said.

CNN quoted an unnamed senior administration official as saying, "a significant new phase in the war in Afghanistan has begun," involving a "modest" number of troops and of limited duration. A second official confirmed the report, CNN said.

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President George W. Bush, traveling in China, was monitoring the situation, officials told the network.

CBS News first reported the engagement, saying it was asked to withhold further information until the soldiers were extracted.

The Pentagon, however, had no comment on the report.

A Pakistani military official told United Press International earlier Friday that U.S. special operations forces were on the ground in Taliban-controlled areas of the Southern Afghanistan.

"They are near the Pakistani border, and not deep inside Taliban territory as has been reported," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

U.S. Army Green Berets have been reported to be operating as liaisons with anti-Taliban forces in Northern Afghanistan.

The Pakistani daily, The News, reported Friday that seven U.S. C-130 cargo/troop carrying aircraft were at an airbase at Jacobabad Thursday night, together with four six helicopter gunships. The number of U.S. commandos on the base was said to have reached 200.

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Reliable sources, the newspaper said, indicated the presence of the troops showed the United States was preparing to mount ground attacks in Afghanistan, where the Taliban refuses to turn over bin Laden, who is wanted for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Pakistan officials have confirmed the United States has permission to use a base -- a small air strip -- at Dalbandin, near the Afghan border, according to the British Broadcasting Corp. It is the third air base that Pakistan has allowed the United States to use.

The BBC, quoting government sources, said U.S. troops were also at Pasni and Jacobabad.

The United States and Britain began military operations against Afghanistan Oct. 7 with bombing and cruise missile strikes to degrade Taliban air defense capabilities.

Together with the bombing, food aid has been Afghans in areas of the country not controlled by the Taliban. Leaflets explaining U.S. action, together with broadcasts from low-flying aircraft, have also advised the people of U.S. intentions and how the fight is not directed against Islam or the Afghan people.

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