Coalition 'Turning up the Pressure,' but Battle not Over
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 6, 2002 Afghan and coalition forces are turning up the pressure on Al Qaeda and Taliban troops in the mountains south of Gardez, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today.
Still, he told Pentagon reporters, "The battle will likely take some time to play out." Rumsfeld said enemy forces fighting coalition troops near Gardez are hardened fighters without many options. "Real dead-enders," he called them, but added he believes they will surrender or be killed "in the days ahead."
U.S., Afghan and coalition forces have been fighting a pocket of Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts in a 60-some- square-mile area since March 2 (Afghan time) in an effort dubbed Operation Anaconda. Eight U.S. servicemen have been killed in the fighting.
Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., said U.S. commanders in the area have brought in a number of additional Marine attack helicopters and 200 to 300 more troops to assist with the operation. This brings the total number of U.S. troops involved to over 1,000.
"That has not been in response to surprise. It has been in accordance with our plan to reposition our forces inside the objective area over time as necessary in order to completely clear it," Franks said.
Central Command is responsible for operations in the region around Afghanistan. Franks was in Washington to brief Rumsfeld and President Bush on Anaconda's progress.
Rumsfeld stressed the coalition actions in Afghanistan aren't "revenge" or "retribution" for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"Rather, it is to protect our country and our people from further attack," he said. "A terrorist under fire in the mountains of Afghanistan is a terrorist who has bigger problems than trying to plan the next attack on the United States."
He said America's mission hasn't changed since Sept. 11 -- to deny safe haven to terrorist networks. That is why U.S. troops are also working to train and equip military forces in the Philippines and Yemen, he said.
"It's to help them eliminate the possibility of their countries becoming sanctuaries for terrorists," Rumsfeld remarked.
He said the "service and sacrifice" of the service members who died and those who continue to put themselves in harm's way should serve as a lesson to those who would attack the United States.
"If you attack the United States, if people try to kill our men, women and children, we intend to stop them. There will be a penalty," Rumsfeld said, adding that the U.S. soldiers are "as relentless as they are courageous."