- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2002

U.S. intelligence agencies identified terrorists moving back into training camps that had been bombed in the war, as allied military forces pressed attacks against al Qaeda terrorists and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan yesterday.
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said terrorists had been spotted in some of the more than 20 camps abandoned after military strikes began on Oct. 7.
Renewed allied air strikes on the camps are expected in the coming days. The camps have been used to train al Qaeda terrorists that are part of a network of Islamic extremists working secretly in cells in up to 60 nations.
In the fifth day of Operation Anaconda, heavy bombing by U.S. and French warplanes softened hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban forces entrenched in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, near Gardez, said Air Force Brig. Gen. John Rosa, deputy operations director for the Joint Staff.
"I think the biggest thing to change, and not to be flip, is we've killed a lot of people," Gen. Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon. "We've killed people. They're not roaming around freely like they were; they're dug in. They're hunkered in. We've got a simultaneous attack at times with air from the U.S. and coalition forces. But I think it's tougher on them right now, and they're not moving quite as freely."
The battle is "far from over," he said. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Afghan commander Abdul Matin Hasankhiel said hundreds of Afghan and coalition forces are deployed around the mountain area in the Paktia province, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been surrounded.
"They can't escape. They're surrounded. Slowly, slowly we are pushing in," he told the Associated Press in Gardez.
U.S. Special Forces and Afghan fighters were conducting mine-clearing operations on the mountains as part of the assault, and allied warplanes dropped bombs and fired flares to thwart any surface-to-air missiles during bombing raids that lasted into last night.
One Afghan fighter, identified by the Associated Press as Nawab, said fighting yesterday was less intense. The battle began Friday after U.S. intelligence monitored the massing of al Qaeda and Taliban in the area. "Inshallah [God willing], in three or four days they will be finished," Nawab said.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Navy sailor who fell out of an MH-47 helicopter south of Gardez after it came under attack died at the hands of al Qaeda fighters, and not from the fall itself.
The missing serviceman was captured and killed by al Qaeda fighters. "We saw him on the Predator being dragged off by three al Qaeda men," Maj. Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck told AP, referring to an unmanned reconnaissance plane mounted with a real-time video camera.
A Pentagon account by Marine Maj. Ralph Mills said Navy Aviation Boatswain's Mate-Handling Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts died of a bullet wound after surviving a fall from the helicopter.
Gen. Rosa told a Pentagon briefing that a U.S. rescue team recovered the man's body.
The Pentagon yesterday also released the names of seven soldiers killed Monday in two incidents.
Those killed in action as part of the operation near Gardez were Army Sgt. Bradley S. Crose, 27, Orange Park, Fla.; Army Sgt. Philip J. Svitak, 31, Joplin, Mo.; Army Spc. Marc A. Anderson, 30, Brandon, Fla.; Army Pfc. Matthew A. Commons, 21, Boulder City, Nev.; Mr. Roberts, 32, Woodland, Calif.; Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, 36, Waco, Texas; and Air Force Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, 26, Camarillo, Calif.
Also, Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34, of Wade, N.C. was killed as the result of enemy fire near Gardez on Saturday.
A second team of two MH-47s came under fire three hours later as it landed some distance from the first landing area while bringing in a team of U.S. Army Special Forces troops.
Seven soldiers were killed in a gunbattle with al Qaeda forces on the ground and at least 11 were wounded before the team was rescued by more helicopters, Gen. Rosa said.
"That was a very successful operation. We got everybody out," the one-star general said.
Gen. Rosa said he did not know why local commanders selected a landing area that was filled with enemy forces. "In combat, you can never be sure that you're risk-free and that the landing zone will be completely free," he said, noting that subsequent missions were successful.
The eight American servicemen killed in Afghanistan in Operation Anaconda were honored in Germany before their caskets were flown back to the United States.
The Pentagon has said that as many as 200 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been killed in the battle. Four enemy fighters were taken prisoner.
The force of some 2,000 U.S. and allied troops along with Afghan fighters battled on yesterday in what Gen. Rosa described as "a very deliberate attack."
Advancing U.S. troops moved in on cave complexes and one of the caves held stockpiles of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.
"Our focus remains defeating al Qaeda and the former Taliban forces holed up in the Shah-e-Kot region," Gen. Rosa said. "We believe there are still hundreds of fighters there."
Reporters spotted a group of 60 Afghan fighters, wearing U.S.-issued parkas, heading to the front lines of the battle near Jiji, a town northeast of Gardez.
Bright orange strips were attached to the tops of their transport trucks to help identify them to allied bombers and gunships.
The military operations have involved Apache attack helicopters and as many as four AC-130 gunships.
Other combat aircraft involved in the mission include U.S. A-10s, F-15s, B-1s, B-52s, and French Mirage 2000 and Super-Etendard aircraft.
The Pentagon also released video from gun cameras showing bombing strikes on the targets in Gardez.


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