- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

U.S. military forces in Afghanistan attacked a convoy of vehicles and killed 16 enemy fighters as a group of 31 al Qaeda fighters were captured nearby.
The attack and capture 70 miles south of Gardez came as the United States wrapped up its regional military campaign in eastern Afghanistan.
"Operation Anaconda is complete, but Operation Enduring Freedom and operations in Afghanistan still continue," said Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa. "We still have teams operating in the area looking for any remaining Taliban and al Qaeda, searching caves and other positions they may have occupied."
In Missouri, President Bush warned that the battle against terrorism is far from over.
"I feel like we have a lot more fighting to do in Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said after a speech in St. Louis.
Mr. Bush thanked U.S. forces for carrying out difficult fighting as part of Operation Anaconda and battling "an enemy that refuses to surrender."
"These are people that are there to die," he said. "And we accommodated them."
"But there are more al Qaeda killers in Afghanistan and perhaps in Pakistan willing to come back into Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said. "These are killers. They hate America. They hate America's freedom. They hate what America stands for. And they're relentless. But so are we. And we'll be more relentless than they are."
Gen. Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon that some 500 U.S. and allied troops are "actively pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban personnel throughout Afghanistan, and we're preparing for any subsequent missions that may be needed."
The three-vehicle convoy of fighters who were fleeing the Shah-e-Kot Valley region of eastern Afghanistan were ordered to halt by U.S. Army Special Forces troops but resisted. The ensuing firefight left 16 enemy fighters dead.
The convoy was identified by a U.S Air Force Predator unmanned aerial vehicle some 45 miles south of Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan.
"We surveilled the convoy for quite some time," said Gen. Rosa, who is deputy director of operations for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff.
U.S. MH-47 helicopters moved in on the vehicles and fired warning shots to force them to stop, he said. Instead, the fighters returned fire.
"There were three vehicles in the main convoy, and there was another vehicle some distance behind, not appearing to be a part of that, but close enough that you could see four vehicles," he said.
"So we took out those first three vehicles," he said. "The fourth vehicle did not fire, so as we landed, troops got out and went back to that vehicle. Folks got out of that vehicle, and it happened to be a family."
Gen. Rosa said the fact that the family was not attacked "shows the professionalism of those troops."
"Those folks … got back in their vehicle and went on their way," he said.
The attack killed 16 of the enemy fighters believed to be members of the al Qaeda terrorist group, responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks. One of the enemy fighters was wounded and one was taken prisoner.
In another U.S.-led military operation, a group of suspected al Qaeda fighters were captured further south.
The soldiers found weapons, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades in the vehicles.
West of Kandahar, U.S. military forces carried out a search of a compound that led to the detention of 31 people, Gen. Rosa said. "Weapons and a large amount of ammunition were also discovered in this compound," he said.
There were no reports of American casualties in either operation.
The latest fighting in Afghanistan was part of military operations to root out pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
The U.S. military is wrapping up Operation Anaconda near Gardez, which has been under way since March 2. The Pentagon has said several hundred al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were killed during the operation. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and some 40 wounded since the battle began.
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan told reporters in Bagram that the operation in eastern Afghanistan was an "absolute success."
Army Gen. Tommy Franks traveled to Afghanistan to meet U.S. commanders and award medals to five U.S. soldiers in the battle of Gardez. Gen. Franks said Operation Anaconda would end by today, but said the Afghan campaign is not yet finished.
"We still have additional work to do," Gen. Franks said at a press conference at Bagram air base. "If you talk to any one of these soldiers, they'll tell you they are here to do that work."
In a ceremony at the air base, Gen. Franks awarded the Bronze Star for valor to Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Peterson, 37, of Tawas City, Mich., and Staff Sgt. Randel J. Perez, 30, of San Benito, Texas.
Additional Bronze Stars for achievement were given to Staff Sgt. Dwayne L. Simms, 37, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Staff Sgt. David A. Hruban, 26, of Park Ridge, Ill.
Spc. James D. Brossoie received a Bronze Star for valor but could not attend the ceremony because of an illness.


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