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US forces kill four in suspected Al Qaeda compounds

Detain several in Afghanistan raids

KABUL, Afghanistan -- US-led troops mounted overnight raids on suspected Al Qaeda compounds in eastern Afghanistan, killing four people and detaining several others, officials said yesterday.

The US military said ''several Arab fighters" were among the suspects killed or detained in the operation in Nangarhar Province, although a local official said only Afghans survived.

News reports of the operation were announced as Lieutenant General David Barno, the top US commander in Afghanistan, reported that Al Qaeda suspects were continuing to slip across the Pakistani border nearby.

The raids targeted several compounds that ''had clear connections to Al Qaeda," the military said in a statement.

It said the operation was launched partly on the basis of a tip from local residents and netted a haul of weapons, explosives, and cash.

Faizan ul-Haq, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said Afghan and US soldiers took part in the raid in the Bati Kot district of Nangarhar.

He said the four people who died were severely burned, making it impossible to check their nationality. He added that five people were detained.

''We are not sure if they burned themselves before the operation started or if the Americans somehow burned them," Haq said.

Nangarhar lies in a swath of Afghan territory where US and allied Afghan forces continue to battle Taliban-led rebels three years after the fall of the hard-line militia.

Barno, the commander of the 18,000 mainly US troops in Afghanistan, said rebels, including Al Qaeda fighters, were still slipping in from Pakistan.

''There's continued infiltration back and forth on both sides of the border," he said in an interview after inaugurating a US base opened to foster reconstruction in the troubled border area.

American and Pakistani forces on either side of the frontier ''work very closely . . . to reduce that infiltration and strike back at the terrorists when they do come back and forth," he said.

The mountainous border zone is also a suspected hiding place for Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.

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