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Hunt Continues Along Pakistan's Border for al Qaeda, Taliban

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 3, 2002 – U.S. and coalition forces taking part in Operation Mountain Lion in Afghanistan are searching along the border with Pakistan for al Qaeda and former Taliban forces, Air Force Gen. John W. Rosa said today.

The hunters are also "trying to prevent the enemy from regrouping, moving and operating freely in this region as we eliminate their sanctuaries," the Joint Chiefs spokesman said. "Our mission remains the same in Afghanistan. It is to locate former Taliban and al Qaeda, and either destroy or capture them."

Every day, he added, U.S. military officials are coordinating and working hand-in-hand with Pakistani forces.

Rosa said officials have seen little change in the situation over the past few weeks. "The snow is melting," Rosa said. "We thought it would be a much more active time. But that's not to say that that won't happen."

Trying to predict what comes next is difficult, the general said. "But as we ... look for folks, when we come upon them, we'll handle them according to the rules of engagement and what we find."

There has been no recent contact with the enemy. Three or four rocket rounds landed May 2 in the vicinity of the Khost airfield, Rosa said, but their source remains undetermined.

"It's difficult to determine where the attack came from. Is it factional? The factions are pretty intense in that area. Was it criminal? Was it al Qaeda? We don't know," Rosa said. While some U.S. and coalition troops are in the Khost area, none were injured, he remarked.

As for the hunt in the border region, Rosa said it's hard to pinpoint enemy fighters in the vast, open, rugged terrain. The hunted can still communicate with each other, Rosa said, and it would be nave to think they can't.

"(But) are they as effective as they were when we began this campaign?" he mused. "I think not."

Defense officials often have said since the start of the Afghan campaign in October that there would be periods with lots of military action and others with little.

"Clearly, we've made it harder for them to operate," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke added. "Clearly, they've realized that getting together in large groups is not a smart idea. But this is almost exactly what we predicted, the levels of activity we would see."

The United States now has a total of 555 detainees under its control. "As we've said all along, there is no desire to keep large numbers of them for any great period of time," Clarke said. "Some will go back to the country of origin. There are different processes for different ones.

"We will be moving them around and we're going to get out of the daily 'tick-tock' of how many in each place. It's just not useful, or safe for people to have a lot of information about who exactly is there and when are they moving."

Clarke reminded reporters that May is Military Appreciation Month. "There are so many incredible people in uniform who do hard, dangerous work every single day, and I, like a lot of people, appreciate what they do."

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