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Report: SAS in Kabul gun battle

Mountainous Afghanistan
Afghanistan's rugged terrain makes combat difficult, especially in winter  

(CNN) -- A newspaper report on Sunday said that elite British troops were engaged in a gun battle with Taliban forces outside the Afghanistan capital of Kabul.

Quoting military sources, the Sunday Times reported that SAS troops were fired upon on Friday in what they heralded as the first clash in the war against terrorism.

The report said the firing gunfire was "more symbolic than directed" after the British SAS team "spooked" Taliban soldiers near Kabul.

The British Ministry of Defense has refused to confirm or deny the report.

"We never discuss special forces or operational matters," a British military spokesman said, Reuters news agency reported.

"We are currently in our planning phase to decide what help we can offer to the Americans."

The Sunday Times suggested that the SAS team was a four-man unit which entered Afghanistan possibly via Tajikistan.

Both British and US special units, the report said, were working with Jamiat-I-Islam, the military wing of the Northern Alliance, as it launches new offensives against the Taliban militia.

Having been deployed in the Gulf and Falkland's War, as well as the Balkans, elite forces such as the SAS are considered ideal for intelligence-gathering operations within Afghanistan.

Over the years the Northern Alliance has been helped by both Russia and India amongst others.

Potential ally

Northern Alliance sources told CNN that it is the best ally the U.S. coalition could have in any offensive against the ruling Taliban.

"We have the various resources such as languages, the ability to communicate, knowing the geography, we know the terrain and have fought battles in most of the terrain in Afghanistan" says Haron Amin, spokesman for the Northern Alliance.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke recently about the potential of the U.S. cooperating militarily with the Northern Alliance.

However, despite a common interest in leveraging the Taliban militia, the U.S. administration is wary of taking them on as overt allies.

Hesitation is due to its reluctance to get involved in Afghanistan's murky politics.

Following the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s anti-Taliban leaders did share power in Kabul for a few years, however it was not successful.

"The key reason for that mess was their complete and total failure to cooperate among themselves and their constant tendency to infighting," says Anatole Lieven of the Carnegie Endowment.

"Now maybe that's changed, but maybe it hasn't."

CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.

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