Myers, Franks: Operation Anaconda not yet Over
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 10, 2002 Two top U.S. generals today denied media reports that Operation Anaconda is all but finished.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks said he's satisfied with the operation's progress "up to this point," but added that U.S., coalition and Afghan forces continue to move through the objective area in eastern Afghanistan.
Franks, who heads the U.S. Central Command, made his comments during ABC's news program "This Week" in an interview from Fort Hood, Texas."
"We will not stop until each of the pockets that we're able to identify has been reduced," Franks said. The general said that in the last 24 hours coalition forces moved on one intermediate objective in the area. "Along with that, we'll be repositioning forces to other intermediate objective areas within this 60 square miles," he said.
In Washington, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed Franks moments later on CNN's "Late Edition." He said it's too early to say the operation is over because pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are still in eastern Afghanistan.
"Campaigns like this take some time," Myers said. "We are not ... timeline- driven. We're event-driven. So when the area is cleared of al Qaeda and Taliban, we'll be finished."
Neither officer speculated on the number of enemy fighters still holed up in the area. Myers said estimates ran from 200 to several thousand before the operation began, but no one would know for sure until it's over. He expressed hope that al Qaeda or Taliban forces would surrender, but indicated they aren't likely to be so inclined.
"They can surrender if they wish, but so far we haven't seen any willing to do that," he said.
Coalition forces are in the area not only to eradicate the pockets of enemy fighters, but also to gain information "that might have an impact on future operations somewhere around this world," Myers said. "We'd like some of them to surrender so we can get our hands on them and interrogate them."
Coalition forces have come up against Arab, Afghan, Chechen and Uzbek al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in this operation, but no sign of senior leaders, Franks said.
"I have not received indications that any of the top tier of al Qaeda are in the area," he said.
Myers, however, didn't rule out that Osama bin Laden might be somewhere in the caves of eastern Afghanistan. "If we don't know where he is, we certainly can't say he is or isn't in there, so we'll just have to wait and see," he said.
"We have best estimates (about bin Laden's whereabouts) from our intelligence community," he said.
Myers said the cave complexes in that area of Afghanistan and areas nearby across the border in Pakistan are elaborate. "You can ebb and flow through that territory as you wish and you find people that want to support you. My guess is that bin Laden is moving fairly frequently," he said.
He also didn't rule out more U.S. involvement in rooting out pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban elsewhere in Afghanistan. "To give that interim administration in Afghanistan the best chance of succeeding, we've got to do our best to deal with remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban, so we'll be prepared to do that," Myers said.
He added that intelligence sources indicate such pockets are "quite widely dispersed" throughout the country.
In the end, Myers said, U.S. forces will need to focus on training and equipping an Afghan national army "to deal with these pockets themselves."