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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Attacks Taliban Holdouts

SURMAD, Afghanistan -- U.S. bombers blasted the cavernous mountains of eastern Afghanistan for a third day Sunday, pressing a new offensive against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters believed to be regrouping there.

One American and three Afghans were killed Saturday in the opening day of the ground attack.

The airstrikes Sunday sent thick black plumes of smoke into the air above the Shah-e-Kot mountain range and shook the ground 30 kilometers away in Surmad, where a constant stream of B-52 bombers streaked overhead. "They have been dropping very heavy bombs all night, this morning, yesterday," said a Surmad villager, Rehmatullah, as nine bombs exploded within minutes of one another.

The bombardment was part of the largest known joint ground offensive of the war. However, Saturday's ground attack appeared to have made little headway in dislodging Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who fought back with artillery, mortars and heavy machine guns, Afghan officials said.

A U.S. defense official said a U.S-led force of 1,500 Afghan allies, U.S. Special Forces and troops from the Army's 101st Airborne assault troops had assembled for Saturday's battle. Canadian troops also were taking part, but not in large numbers, said Canadian military spokesman Lieutenant Luc Charron.

After the ground attack stalled, U.S. planes late Saturday dropped newly developed bombs designed to send suffocating blasts through cave complexes, military officials said. The "thermobaric" bombs were tested in December and officials said in January that they would be rushed to the region for the war.

More than 80 bombs of different types were dropped Friday night and Saturday in the snowy, mountainous terrain, the U.S. military's Central Command in Florida said.

U.S. aircraft also dropped pamphlets on the arid plains near the site of the assault, warning that the days of al-Qaida and the Taliban were numbered and urging residents not to support them.

"Stop resisting. End your fight. Otherwise you are finished," statements in the pamphlets declared.

Afghan forces broke off Saturday's attack in early afternoon and withdrew back to Gardez, 30 kilometers north of the assault.

Fighter Mohammed Khan said the American was killed when a pickup truck he was riding in was hit by a mortar shell. Six of the injured were airlifted out by helicopter, said Naguibullah, a doctor at the Gardez hospital.

Ubaidullah Khan, a resident of the nearby Pakistani border town of Miran Shah, said the attack was launched after al-Qaida leaders rebuffed a surrender offer from local Afghan officials.

The bombing was designed to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban remnants from their mountain hideouts, official Pakistani sources said Sunday. Pakistan closed its border to prevent escape by any fleeing al-Qaida or Taliban members and deployed extra army units and members of the Khasadar tribal militia to catch any who try to cross the frontier.

Neither the former Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, nor al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden are believed to be in the area.

"Our goal since the beginning ... has been to eliminate al-Qaida and Taliban elements in the country so they cannot reconstitute," said Major A.C. Roper, spokesman for the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne division at the U.S.-held Kandahar airport in the south of the country.

"We are moving methodically to identify those elements so we can achieve that goal," said Roper.

Afghan officials say al-Qaida and Taliban fighters are regrouping in the mountains and just over the border in Pakistan, urging the faithful to wage holy war against U.S. forces.