- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

U.S. military officials yesterday expressed confidence that Operation Anaconda had been a success, but they denied that the fierce battle against al Qaeda terrorists holding out in the rugged terrain of eastern Afghanistan was completed or was winding down.
"I think it's too early to say that" the battle is over, said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when asked by host Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition" about reports that about 400 of the 1,200 American troops deployed in Anaconda had been rotated out of the region south of Gardez.
Maj. Bryan Hilferty, spokesman for the Army's 10th Mountain Division, said yesterday, "This is not over.
"If I were an al Qaeda guy, I would not go out for a pizza," he told reporters at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Eight Americans have been killed in the campaign to eliminate pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance.
Coalition forces said they killed at least 500 guerrillas and that about 200 were believed remaining. Time magazine reported yesterday that the death toll for al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas in the battle had reached 800.
Appearing on ABC's "This Week," both Gen. Myers and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan, said U.S. troops were being repositioned within the battlefield or its perimeter.
"Some of those troops that are withdrawing are actually going to rearm and refit themselves and then perhaps go back into the area to finish the job," Gen. Myers said. "There are certainly still pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda there that we need to finish our job on, and so it'll take some time."
But he said Operation Anaconda "is going very well … I'm satisfied with our progress up to this point. And we'll continue to work our way through this area until we are satisfied that we have taken out all" of the enemy forces.
As for the troops being withdrawn from Gardez, Gen. Franks said, "We've continued to reposition forces through the 60 or so square miles for the last several days. I wouldn't question at all that some of the forces may have been moved out for rotation. That's not at all surprising."
The leader of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, sent up to 1,000 more troops to the region, which he called the "last main base" of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He said, however, that smaller groups are likely operating in some areas.
"We will fight terrorism until we are absolutely sure that they are not there to threaten anybody anywhere in the world," Mr. Karzai said.
On CNN, Gen. Myers suggested that premature reports of the end of operation may be linked to uncertainty about how many al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas were in the area targeted by Anaconda, at the northern end of Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.
"Before we went in there, we heard everywhere from 200 to several thousand. We think there were hundreds," he said on CNN. "What's left, we think, is a small part of that, but it's still going to take some time to figure that out."
In his remarks on ABC, Gen. Franks said that in the early stages of Operation Anaconda, some U.S. troops faced a stronger enemy and tougher fighting than they had anticipated.
"I think we've seen it in the past, and to be very honest with you, I think we'll see it in the future," he said.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice agreed, saying yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "American forces and our allies are having a lot of success. But it is undoubtedly tough going. These are very tough fighters."
On CNN, Mr. Blitzer asked Gen. Myers about reports that the U.S. casualties in Anaconda might have been avoided by greater use of air power before ground troops went into the area.
The general said he was "not going to get into tactical decision-making."
The Washington Times reported Thursday that an unnamed senior U.S. Air Force officer was criticizing the use of ground troops before the area had been reduced by aerial assaults.
Gen. Myers said other operations like Anaconda "probably" are being readied for elsewhere in Afghanistan.
"To give that interim administration in Afghanistan the best chance of succeeding, we've got to do our best to deal with remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban," he said. "And we'll be prepared to do that."
He said the intelligence map dealing with the locations of those pockets of resistance show they are "quite widely dispersed."
On NBC, Miss Rice said, "There may well be other pockets of resistance outside of Gardez. We are looking for those. The United States is not going to relent, not going to stop until these pockets of resistance have been rooted out."
Gen. Myers offered an encouraging note when he was asked where the war on terrorism was likely to be six months from now.
"Our military action in Afghanistan might be over" at that point, he said, and U.S. troops could be focusing on training the Afghan army.


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