- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Coalition forces have killed four al Qaeda fighters this week in the "no man's land" near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, who commands allied ground forces in Afghanistan, said both attacks involved Australian commandos who encountered Osama bin Laden's guerrillas at night northeast of Khost in eastern Afghanistan.
"I will tell you that our business is to kill and capture the al Qaeda and when they present themselves as targets, we will do that," Reuters quoted the general as saying.
The killings Monday and before dawn yesterday point out the type of fighting that now typifies the war in Afghanistan.
Rather than encounter large numbers of al Qaeda and hard-core Taliban fighters, as U.S. forces did in Tora Bora and in Operation Anaconda, coalition troops are hunting them down one or two at a time. The most successful hunting ground is the mountains of northeast Afghanistan, where bin Laden built large terrorist training camps.
"I don't think I would predict what we may see in the future in terms of large groupings of enemy forces. I will say right now we do not see that," Gen. Tommy Franks, who is directing the campaign, said over the weekend.
"What we see are smaller groups. We see groups of enemy soldiers trying to blend in with communities, if you will. We find ourselves dealing with community leaders all over Afghanistan every day," Gen. Franks said. "And the smaller contacts that we see are frequently brought about by the Afghans telling us, 'Well, yes, there are foreigners here.'"
Maj. Bryan Hilferty, a U.S. Army spokesman at Bagram air base, north of Kabul, said coalition troops had conducted reconnaissance in the area for two days when they came under fire.
"I think that they still do have a command-and-control structure in place," the Associated Press quoted him as saying. "All the reports that I get from a variety of intelligence sources tell me that they have the ability to conduct low-level terrorist activities."
Maj. Hilferty said "hundreds," as opposed to thousands, of al Qaeda fighters remain at large in eastern Afghanistan. U.S. officials believe bin Laden, whom the U.S. holds responsible for the September 11 attacks, is hiding in the same region, or is dead.
Nearly 30 people have been killed in fighting between two warlords who claim sovereignty over the Khost-Gardez area. Still, Maj. Hilferty said special-operations forces are traveling in the area and making contact with local villagers.
Gen. Hagenbeck bluntly warned one warlord, Padshah Khan Zadran, that he may face U.S. military action if he does not cease ordering attacks on the town of Gardez. The warlord has challenged the regime of interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, a strong U.S. ally who is trying to move the impoverished country to some type of functioning democracy.
"It's true that Padshah Khan was an ally of ours before, we've had that relationship with a variety of warlords throughout Afghanistan," the general told reporters. "But the old phrase there are no permanent alliances probably smacks true in this instance."
Gen. Hagenbeck, who commands the 10th Mountain Division, said there was factional fighting in the area long before U.S. troops arrived.
"If you look back six months ago before our involvement, there is much more safety and security in this country than there was under the oppressive and barbaric rule of the Taliban here, and I think for the largest part of the country that is true," he said.

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