- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) The Operation Anaconda commander warned yesterday that al Qaeda terrorists are an "adaptable enemy" already drawing on a fresh flow of cash to rebuild forces in eastern Paktia province.
Just 40 miles to the east, U.S. and Afghan troops came under fire, and one American was wounded.
Intelligence data showed that well-outfitted guerrillas already were moving to regroup, Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck said just two days after completion of the largest U.S. offensive in the Afghan war. He predicted increased activity as the weather improves.
"I can tell you there are al Qaeda operatives in Paktia right now who are going to great lengths to try to regroup or regenerate," Gen. Hagenbeck said in an interview with three news organizations in his office at Bagram air base. "They are also spending a lot of money to regroup."
He declined to elaborate on what measures al Qaeda operatives were taking. But he said it was a rich organization able to count on popular backing in the region near the Pakistani border.
"They are a very adaptable enemy," he said.
Just 40 miles east of the main battlefield in Operation Anaconda, gunmen attacked U.S. and Afghan troops with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, touching off a firefight Tuesday night near the town of Khost. One American soldier was wounded.
The soldier, with the 101st Airborne Division, was shot in the arm, but the injury was not considered life-threatening, said Cmdr. Frank Merriman, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command.
At the same time, three U.S.-allied Afghan fighters were killed in a raid on a checkpoint near the Khost airport, Afghan officials said.
U.S. troops and their Afghan allies called in support from an AC-130 gunship and a B-1 bomber, which illuminated the area with flares, Central Command said.
At the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. John Rosa said the AC-130 targeted a former prison that was the source of some of the fire. Ground forces who searched the area later found bullet casings and blood but no bodies, he said.
"The enemy fire seemed to be trying to harass our troops, or trying to inflict quick casualties, as opposed to conducting a more sustained attack," he said. "I would expect to see more of this. We knew as we break these folks down into pockets we can expect this."
A contingent of up to 1,700 British soldiers is on its way to Afghanistan to join the fight against al Qaeda and will begin arriving at Bagram in the coming days. Gen. Hagenbeck said the force will give the coalition more options.
"It will allow us to conduct more simultaneous missions, because we'll have more troops here than in the past," he said.
Gen. Hagenbeck also said two U.S. 10th Mountain Division battalions the 1-87th Infantry and 4-31st Infantry are slated to return to Fort Drum, N.Y., by mid-April.
They will be replaced by more troops from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, he said.
Members of the 10th Mountain Division were the first conventional U.S. ground troops dispatched to Central Asia as a part of the American war on terrorism. They were first sent to Uzbekistan last fall, providing security for U.S. aircraft at an air base in Termez on the Afghan border.
The division moved into Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

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