- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Coalition forces began a new offensive in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, as British Royal Marines for the first time augmented an American sweep of suspected al Qaeda and Taliban mountain hide-outs.
"They're going to sweep through, destroy any al Qaeda and Taliban that are there then deny the ground control of that area," Lt. Col. Paul Harradine, a British spokesman at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press.
The Pentagon reported no contact with the enemy thus far and declined to pinpoint the operation's exact location. But the size of the enemy did not appear as large as the 1,000 or so al Qaeda fighters that gathered last month in the same region of Afghanistan, along the Shah-e-Kot Valley. Coalition forces largely destroyed the enemy using ground and air assaults in Operation Anaconda from March 2-19.
Eastern Afghanistan around the towns of Gardez and Khost serves as the main base of operations for remaining al Qaeda and Taliban troops. They are trying to regroup and start a guerrilla war against coalition troops and the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
U.S. officials said enemy forces have learned new lessons following each major encounter. In this case, al Qaeda fighters are clustering in smaller groups than they did in Shah-e-Kot to present less of a target for U.S. surveillance planes and satellites.
London last month sent 1,700 of its crack Royal Marines to Afghanistan, making it Britian's largest deployed ground force since the 1991 Gulf war. At Bagram air base, north of Kabul, the Royal Marines set up Camp Gibraltar and began training for the type of high-altitude combat needed to find and destroy Osama bin Laden's army.
Royal Marines are considered one of the world's best fighting units. Like U.S. Marines, they are their country's "911 force," responding rapidly to crises around the world.
Britain named the current sweep Operation Ptarmigan. The Pentagon said the current advance is part of a much broader search-and-destroy mission called Operation Mountain Lion.
"They will be integrated as part of the coalition, part of [Operation Mountain Lion], which is to search and do surveillance, reconnaissance, and try to find out as much as we can about the enemy," Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa Jr. told reporters at the Pentagon.
Asked to describe enemy movements, Gen. Rosa said, "If I told you exactly what the enemy was doing and exactly where they are, that wouldn't be that smart."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld again this week warned that the campaign to rid the area of al Qaeda forces and stabilize warlord-ruled Afghanistan "will take a good deal of time."
"The country is fragmented politically," he said. "It does not have a strong tradition of democracy, as we all know, and I think any expectation that it will suddenly transform itself into a Western-style democracy ever, let alone instantaneously, is misplaced."
Mr. Rumsfeld said his long-term goal is for a more "peaceful environment" and the creation of a national army that will pick up the load of hunting for lingering pockets of al Qaeda fighters.
The Pentagon yesterday identified the four American soldiers killed this week in an explosion as their unit was destroying Taliban rockets near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. The 107mm rockets were Chinese-made.
The four Army soldiers were Staff Sgt. Brian Craig, 27, of Texas; Staff Sgt. Justin Galewski, 28, of Kansas; Sgt. Jamie Maugans, 27, of Kansas; and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Romero, 30, of Colorado.
"Our prayers go out to their families. We thank them for the commitment they made. And it's another example of the kinds of risks these people face every day," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said.

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