- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

Up to 300 additional U.S. troops are being sent to northeastern Afghanistan, where fierce cave-to-cave fighting is under way against a growing number of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, the commander of U.S. forces in the region said yesterday.
"The area inside Afghanistan continues to be very messy, it continues to be very dangerous," Gen. Tommy Franks told reporters at the Pentagon.
The four-star general spoke as U.S. and allied warplanes carried out bombing raids on targets in the 70 square-mile combat zone called Shah-e-Kot in Afghanistan's Paktia province.
Despite efforts to encircle the region with U.S. and allied forces, more al Qaeda fighters have managed to enter the area near Gardez since the battle, code-named Operation Anaconda, began Friday, a U.S. commander said.
"In our estimation, in the last 24 to 48 hours the number of enemy that we've fought over time is somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 to 700," Maj. Gen F.L. Buster Hagenbeck told reporters at Bagram air base near Kabul.
The Pentagon originally said that between 200 and 300 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were in the region. It then said at least that many had been killed.
The al Qaeda strategy is to wage "jihad," or holy war, on U.S. and allied forces in the region, said Gen. Hagenbeck
"We have intelligence from a variety of sources … that the local fundamentalists have called a jihad against the Americans and their coalition partners," said Gen. Hagenbeck.
"The results so far speak for themselves: several hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are no longer with us to terrorize our citizens or those citizens throughout the world," Gen. Hagenbeck said. "We truly have the momentum at the moment."
Additional U.S. forces were not added "in response to surprise" at the al Qaeda resistance, Gen. Franks said, but according to a plan to reposition U.S. forces on the battlefield and clear it.
"I didn't really expect them to try and duke it out with us," said Lt. Col. Ron Corkran, commander of a U.S. infantry battalion in the battle. "I was just surprised at the intensity of what I saw on the valley floor."
Before the reinforcements, about 900 U.S. troops and 200 allied special operations commandos were working with about 1,000 Afghans in the operation.
In addition to troops, more attack helicopters have been moved to the area around Gardez, where several hundred fighters working with local Afghan warlord Zia Lodin have assisted U.S. forces.
Gen. Hagenbeck said the warlord's support "turned out to be absolutely crucial to us."
At the Pentagon, defense officials said up to 17 Army and Marine Corps attack helicopters will be added to helicopters and AC-130 gunships already taking part in the battle.
"What we want to be sure of is that we have enough gunships or attack helicopters to be able to do anything that may happen in the objective area," Gen. Franks said.
All of the Army's Apache helicopters have been damaged by ground fire since the fighting began, though none have been shot down. Additional Air Force A-10 ground attack jets also are being called into the conflict zone, defense officials said.
On Tuesday, the Marines sent five Cobra attack helicopters into battle, officials said. The helicopters had been based on the USS Bonhomme Richard, now in the North Arabian Sea. Two CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters also were moved to Afghanistan from the ship.
Army Maj. Brian Hilferty told reporters in Afghanistan that some 400 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been killed in the battle. Eight U.S. militiary troops have been killed in the fighting and some 50 others were wounded in the Paktia province area
Maj. Hilferty said the number of remaining enemy fighters is not known.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the enemy forces in the region were "dead-enders" who likely will not give up.
"The battle very likely will take some time to play out," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "I believe that the outcome is reasonably assured, that the people who have been in the battle will either be surrender or be killed in the days ahead."
A group of 12 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division were wounded Saturday after their helicopter landed atop an al Qaeda command bunker near the village of Mazark.
"I've never been so scared in my life," said Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Abbott, who suffered a shrapnel wound. "We thought we were all going to die."
Pool reports from Afghanistan also said that U.S. Navy commando Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, who was captured by al Qaeda terrorists after falling out of a helicopter Monday, was found to have been executed by his captors.

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