KABUL, Afghanistan -- The US military yesterday announced a sweeping new operation that began last weekend across southern and eastern Afghanistan, with the aim of destroying Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and ultimately capturing Osama bin Laden.
"We believe this will help bring the heads of the terrorist organizations to justice, by continuing placing pressure on them," said Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, a US military spokesman. The operation, however, was "about more than one person," Hilferty said. He also said US forces were confident that they would eventually catch the Al Qaeda leadership as well as the Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammed Omar, but not necessarily during the new operation.
Hilferty also said US forces are involved in what he described as a "small-scale air assault" in southern Afghanistan. He declined to give details.
A senior Afghan Army commander in southern Kandahar province, Haji Granai, said that US aircraft had attacked a pickup truck carrying 12 suspected Taliban members on Thursday, killing them all. Granai said the US planes swooped down on the truck near Sami Ghar, 160 miles east of Kandahar. Taliban militants are suspected in the killings of seven Afghan soldiers in a raid on a border post in Maruf on March 3.
The US military had no immediate comment.
The overall operation, dubbed "Mountain Storm," officially began Sunday and was open-ended, Hilferty said. He said the entire 13,500-member US-led coalition was involved.
While bin Laden's whereabouts have been the subject of intense speculation, there has been no known hard evidence of his location, or even that he is alive.
Base personnel at the military's main base at Kandahar have reported unusually heavy air traffic, with C-130 cargo planes and Chinook helicopters landing through the night. The base also served a lobster and steak dinner on the eve of the new operation. The army traditionally serves special meals to kick off large offensives.
Lieutenant General David Barno, the top US commander in Afghanistan, has said his soldiers are engaged in a "hammer-and-anvil" strategy with allied Pakistani forces on the other side of the border.
About 70,000 Pakistani troops have moved into semiautonomous tribal regions to take away maneuver room for Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives believed to have taken refuge there.