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U.S. task force hints at long-term Afghan stay

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is setting up a joint task force headquarters in Afghanistan, a move that signifies a long-term U.S. commitment to the region, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The headquarters will be fully operational by the end of May. The task force will be led by Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps, and he will command troops from all U.S. military branches.

McNeill's command replaces that of Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, who leads the Army's 10th Mountain Division. Hagenbeck's command was limited to Army troops.

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"We have made it clear every step of the way that we'll stay as long as it takes to get the job done," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke. "We're constantly assessing what's the appropriate mix of people and resources, and this is just a natural evolution in that process."

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Meanwhile, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday that U.S. troops have been unable to locate those responsible for scattered rocket fire around the U.S.-held air base at Khowst in eastern Afghanistan. But the troops did find locations where attacks had been launched.

The search, dubbed Operation Iron Mountain, has now ended, the official said.

Operation Iron Mountain involved about 150 U.S. troops, including Special Forces who tried to track down snipers firing rockets in a localized area where U.S. troops and Special Forces have a forward staging area.

The official said U.S. troops didn't find any suspects or military supplies.

During the sweep, at least two additional rockets struck near the Khowst airport. Officials said the firings may not have been directed at U.S. troops but could have been part of a local conflict as Afghan warlords battle for control of the contested area.




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