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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Marines hail Afghan 'success'
Pictured on patrol in the mountain regions of Eastern Afghanistan are members of 45 Commando Royal Marines
Largest UK military operation since the Gulf War
British Royal Marines have completed a two-week hunt for al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

We have delivered a significant blow to the ability of al-Qaeda to plan, mount and sustain terrorist operations in Afghanistan and beyond

Brigadier Roger Lane
Although the force of 600 marines did not fire a shot in combat, their commander insisted that their objectives had been achieved.

Brigadier Roger Lane said the mission, codenamed Operation Snipe and also involving 400 mainly Afghan troops, had destroyed al-Qaeda or Taleban infrastructure by blowing up an enormous weapons store and had denied the rebels use of a 200 square kilometre (77 square mile) area in Paktia province.

"We have delivered a significant blow to the ability of al-Qaeda to plan, mount and sustain terrorist operations in Afghanistan and beyond," he told reporters at Bagram air base, the Afghan headquarters of the US-led coalition.

A selection of the ammunition discovered in caves by Royal Marines in eastern Afghanistan
Up to 40,000 rockets, mortar shells and other projectiles were found in an arms dump
He added: "The fact that al-Qaeda has been forced to abandon one of the most strategically well placed and easily defended locations in Afghanistan speaks volumes for the military and psychological impact of the coalition's operations."

The marines, part of Britain's largest combat deployment since the Gulf War, operated in areas 11,000 feet (3,400 metres) high that had not been previously checked by coalition troops.

The closest to combat the operation came to was the discovery by a local warlord of two rockets targeting their supply and refuelling base.

The BBC's Paul Welsh, at Bagram, says the marines are now resting but other operations are already being planned for them.

The 12,000 troops in the US-led coalition have not had any major confrontations with enemy forces since March, when US and Afghan forces took on several hundred Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters.

Military officials say many of the surviving fighters have dispersed, melting into the local population or filtering across the porous border to Pakistan.

The BBC's Paul Welsh at Bagram airbase, near Kabul
"Other operations are already being planned"
See also:

13 May 02 | South Asia
Marines targeted by al-Qaeda rockets
11 May 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda arms dump destroyed
04 May 02 | South Asia
Marines seize 'al-Qaeda ammunition'
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