U.S. Keeps Watch Over Afghan Khost Region
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 26, 2002 U.S. military officials are carefully watching the Khost area in Afghanistan where al Qaeda and former Taliban fighters may be regrouping.
"The Khost area is a tense situation. It remains a dangerous place," Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa told reporters at the Pentagon today. U.S. forces continue surveillance and intelligence gathering in that area, he said.
The Joint Staff spokesman gave no details about the intelligence U.S. officials have. "We continue to observe, but to start to characterize at this point in time what we're seeing, I think, is a bit premature," he said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said U.S. officials expect and anticipate encounters with more pockets of resistance. Al Qaeda and Taliban forces have been in a regrouping mode, she said, "so we fully expect it and it's one of the reasons we're still there."
The primary U.S. mission in Afghanistan now is finding Taliban and al Qaeda pockets of resistance, Rosa said. There has been no direct enemy contact in over a week, he noted.
In the past 24 hours, he said, U.S. forces have flown over 150 sorties over Afghanistan. Some have been intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, Rosa said, and others include close-air support standby in case of enemy resistance.
"Obviously, you'd like to have them in one big cluster and be able to mount an attack and do as much damage as you can," he said. "When they get in smaller clusters, it makes it a bigger challenge to locate them, to track them, and for each one of those small pockets, you have to develop a plan of attack. It makes it a little more tense from our perspective."
U.S. forces continue to clean up the Afghan area involved in Operation Anaconda, Rosa added. Troops are searching caves and finding books, writings, ammunition and other equipment.
"When we use the word 'cave,' the big deep cave comes to mind," Rosa said. "Some of these are smaller facilities -- ammunition storage facilities. To the naked eye, it looks like a crack or a crevice in the mountain."
When a reporter asked how many more remain to be searched, the general replied: "Are we half way, three-quarters of the way? I don't have a feel for how far along we are in that area."