- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said U.S. troops face "even bloodier" conflicts than Operation Anaconda and likely will be engaged in "urban warfare" as they continue their pursuit of al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan.
"As the campaign is beginning to narrow down, we are fighting against pockets of terrorists. They are able to hide either in a cave or in an urban environment," said Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat. "And they are much more dangerous to our troops because they are largely anonymous until they strike."
Appearing yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Mr. Graham said, "We are likely to be in a period in which we will have a number of situations like we have just gone through in Shah-e-Kot. They probably will be smaller in scale but could be even bloodier in terms of casualties."
The Shah-e-Kot valley in frigid eastern Afghanistan was the site of Operation Anaconda, a mission aimed at squeezing off and eliminating terrorists massed in the mountain area of Paktia province.
Eight Americans were killed in the operation, which involved the fiercest fighting since the United States began its war on terrorism in Afghanistan in early October.
Both Mr. Graham and Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said the U.S. military believes many terrorists are hiding out in Kabul and other major cities in Afghanistan, not in the kind of rugged terrain where Operation Anaconda was fought this month.
In cities, the chairman said, terrorists "can lose themselves anonymously in a crowd of civilians, and then, when U.S. personnel are nearby, take action, try to kill them, as they did kill a couple of our people about a month ago in such an urban setting," Mr. Graham said.
Asked about the prospects for urban guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, Mr. Shelby, who also appeared on "Late Edition," said U.S. forces are "on top of this … they know this war is not over with over there, although we're doing very well."
Mr. Graham said pitched battles are unlikely, saying Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terror group and Afghanistan's former ruling Taliban militia might only have the capability to fight in "small settings."
These would be situations, he said, "where there might be 50 people in a marketplace," of which "three or four could be Taliban or al Qaeda people who are looking for Americans" and "would assault" them in the "hustle-bustle of the marketplace."
Both Mr. Shelby and Mr. Graham said they foresee more Operation Anaconda military operations in Afghanistan, echoing an opinion Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz offered in an interview Saturday on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields."
Mr. Wolfowitz said it's "reasonable to expect that there will be more actions like Anaconda," although he said he cannot predict whether the operations will be as big.
"There are still significant numbers of terrorists. It's a huge country," he said.
But Operation Anaconda, Mr. Shelby said, is in the mop-up phase.
"We're hearing … that there has been success there, but [American soldiers] haven't gotten everybody that they wanted," he said, adding that U.S. forces fear that al Qaeda terrorists will regroup from hiding.
The senators said they have confidence in U.S. Army figures confirming deaths of slightly more than 500 al Qaeda and Taliban guerrillas as well as estimates of 200-plus unconfirmed deaths.
However, the Associated Press reported yesterday that disagreement exists between U.S. Army officials and some Afghan commanders about how many al Qaeda and Taliban fighters escaped the battle area. The Americans think the number was small, but the Afghans believe otherwise.
The latter say only a few dozen bodies have been found more than two weeks after the start of Operation Anaconda, AP said.
In the CNN interview, the senators repeated that doubts persist about the whereabouts of bin Laden, the mastermind in the deadly September 11 attacks.
"There continues to be evidence that he is alive … and the best evidence is that he's still in Afghanistan. But frankly no one will give you a house address as to where they think he might be," Mr. Graham said.
But Mr. Shelby yesterday disputed President Bush's statement last week that bin Laden has been "marginalized" as a result of the U.S. military success in Afghanistan, saying the Saudi-born fugitive has been "marginalized militarily … but not politically."
"I don't believe Osama bin Laden has been marginalized politically … because he is still … a political force, someone that's looked up to by a lot of people in the Islamic world."
In another development yesterday, a spokesman for Afghanistan's defense minister accused Pakistan of harboring wanted Taliban leaders and al Qaeda terrorists in its border regions.
"When the Taliban fell, 95 percent of the movement went from Afghanistan to Pakistan," Saranwal Mir Jan told the Associated Press.
He said the interim Afghan government is "urgently" creating border patrols to stop what he described as back-and-forth movement of terrorists between the two countries.
"We know that Pakistan is helping the Taliban. That is why we need to protect our borders to stop their interference," he said.


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