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Operation Anaconda Is 'Winding Down'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2002 – Operation Anaconda is winding down as U.S., coalition and Afghan forces "mop up" the Shahi Khot Valley near Gardez, Afghanistan, U.S. defense officials said here today.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld welcomes Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov to the Pentagon. Ivanov visited March 12, 2002 and was to meet with President Bush the same day. Ivanov is scheduled March 13 to meet Rumsfeld and other defense officials formally on matters on issues of mutual concerns such as arms control and the war on terrorism. Photo by Jim Garamone.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"Al Qaeda forces are still holed up in small pockets scattered throughout the area," said Air Force Brig. Gen. John W. Rosa, a Joint Staff spokesman. In the past 72 hours, he said, the fighting has been sporadic compared to the heavy fighting that occurred in the early days of the battle that began March 2.

In the past 24 hours, Rosa said, U.S. and coalition forces have flown more than 180 sorties over Afghanistan and dropped more than 100 bombs, bringing the total bombs dropped in this operation to more than 2,500.

U.S. military officials now estimate fewer than 1,000 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been involved in the battle, he said, stressing the difficulty of estimating the size of the enemy forces. U.S. Central Command officials estimate several hundred al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have been killed.

U.S. forces have detained about 20 people. Some may have been involved in the fighting and others may be no more than local farmers, Rosa said. "It's too early to tell," he added.

Though the operation is winding down, Rosa said, the difficult terrain leaves much work still to be done. "There are upwards of 40 caves in that area," he said. "We have started, but are nowhere near completed entering a large majority of those caves." The booby traps, land mines and unexpended ordnance encountered by troops demands slow, careful moves, he remarked.

U.S. forces continue to clear a mountainous area that aircrews have dubbed the "Whale's back," because the terrain resembles the back of a whale emerging from the sea. In many cases, Afghan forces are fighting alongside U.S. forces, and Afghan forces are doing many of the missions up and around the whale, Rosa noted.

"It's slow going," he said. "I don't think any force, us or the Afghani are going to rush up there and clear it."

About 1,200 U.S. troops are engaged in Operation Anaconda. The number fluctuates as troops move out to refit and rearm and then return to the fight, Rosa said. There have been no new U.S. casualties. To date, eight Americans have been killed in action and 49 have been wounded. Of the wounded, 34 are back on duty.

Turning to the overall war on terrorism, Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke stressed that the U.S. mission is to destroy terrorism around the world because it's a threat to national security and the American people "and our freedoms."

"We will continue to seek out and destroy terrorist networks," she said. "We will equip and train and help friendly nations who are seeking to confront domestic terrorist threats. We will use all the fronts necessary, economic, diplomatic, legal, financial and military."

About 20 U.S. service members from Central Command are now in Yemen to determine what assistance the United States will provide in response to that nation's request for help, Clarke said. "The Yemen government has made it clear they want to work with us," she said. "They want assistance in fighting the terrorism in their own back yard."

She noted that the United States will continue working closely with coalition partners from around the world. Yesterday, she said, President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanked dozens of coalition representatives for their support and contributions to the war on terrorism.

"This campaign cannot be conducted just by us alone," she said.

She also reported Rumsfeld welcomed Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov today on his first official visit to the United States. Ivanov is slated to attend meetings at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

"Russia has been a valuable partner and an ally in the war on terrorism," Clarke said.

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DoD News Transcript: DoD News Briefing - ASD PA Clarke and Brig. Gen. Rosa, March 12, 2002

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